Community Schools

The following was an article recently published in the Burlington Free Press regarding the recent proposal to close down Barnes and Wheeler schools…

[begin article]

Old North Enders did not mince words Thursday when it came to telling Burlington school officials what they think about the subject of closing their neighborhood elementary schools.

Barnes and H.O. Wheeler must stay open, said many among the crowd of about 60 residents of Wards 2 and 3 during a meeting at the McClure Multigenerational Center. School Board officials, including interim Superintendent Jeanne Collins and board member Fred Lane, came to talk about next year’s gloomy budget scenario and asked for feedback from the community.

Lane cautioned that neither the board nor the administration has proposed closing either school. But the subject was broached earlier this summer by former Superintendent Lyman Amsden, who said low-income students in the Old North End who are being academically out-performed by low-income students in the rest of the district would benefit by being moved into other schools in the city.

Many residents who say the rumors of closing the schools are circulating in their neighborhood, said consolidation of Barnes and Wheeler can’t be the only solution to solving a looming $1 million budget deficit.

“Regardless of whether or not Barnes and Wheeler is on the table this very second, everyone in this room thinks they’re going to be on the table eventually,” said Ward 3 resident Jules Fishelman. “We need to be convinced that this School Board is actually interested in looking at the bigger picture. I remain unconvinced that we’re thinking outside the box when it comes to Barnes and Wheeler.”

Lane said the only concrete discussion by the board about school buildings has involved potentially closing the Ira Allen administrative building on Colchester Avenue, the Taft building on South Williams Street and a maintenance facility behind Champlain Elementary School.

“We have 19 building and a declining enrollment,” Lane said. “We do not need that much infrastructure.”

“There is absolutely no decision whatsoever that anyone has made about any facility at this point,” Lane continued. “We’ve only said that we have a series of issues we need to look at.”

Based on administrative projections, the 2006-07 budget will increase by $3.1 million if costs are not contained, school officials have said. Burlington homeowners could face a tax increase of 12 cents per $100 of assessed value based on school district spending alone. Yet to be factored into the increase is the common level of appraisal, which could raise the tax rate increase further.

Ward 3 City Councilor Tim Ashe said Old North Enders are frustrated by a perceived lack of communication between them and school officials.

“Why not come to the community first before throwing out these ideas,” Ashe said. “Many people are frustrated because it always comes out by little hints and rumors and everyone is left asking what’s going on.”

School district officials plan to discuss the budget challenges and its plan for meeting district needs during meetings this month in all the city’s wards.

[end of article]

I don’t believe closing Barnes and HO Wheeler is good idea. By having these schools, it helps promote competition among the 6 elementary schools of Burlington. Students may transfer within the 6 schools. This allows the children and parents to have some choice in their education. It would be even better to allow the choice of private schools as well.

Regarding the costs. The biggest cost for our schools is the staff salaries and huge benefits packages. If enrollment is declined, why not reduce the staff in proportion to the enrollment. If there is extra space in the schools, it would make an excellent opportunity to rent out the extra space to child care providers, homeschoolers or even private teachers to help subsidize the schools. Just a thought.

Also, a lot of people want to go to school with people like them, where they might fit in. The reasoning suggested for closing the two schools say they are under-performing because they are in low-income areas and by relocating the students to “higher-income” school they will perform better.

I do not believe this to be completely true. It’s possible that grades may improve, but at a major cost to self-esteem. Speaking as a low-income person myself, I know what it was like to go to school in a high-income school. I always felt different, out-of-place, and I hated going to school as a result. I’ve talked to others with similar experiences. I also know some parents that practically bankrupt themselves so that their children appear to be wealthier so that they fit it, so not to be made fun of.

I would often hear other students and teachers make fun of Milton for the supposed “backwards-ness”. I remember thinking to myself, I wish I could go to school there, where I might be accepted. Therefore, I do not believe in forced-integration of classes… it just doesn’t work.

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