School restructuring panel begins discussing ‘right-sizing’ of Cavendish, Chester-Andover elementaries

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2023 Telegraph Publishing LLC

After a struggle in which the Cavendish members of the board of the Green Mountain Unified School District lobbied for more representation on the new school restructuring committee because the results would impact their elementary school the most, the first meeting of the committee as originally proposed seemed to go pretty smoothly. While there were a few disagreements, there was no animosity that some thought would arise.

The GMUSD Restructuring Committee meets for the first time. Photos by Shawn Cunningham

Cavendish resident Steve Perani stood in for Dennis Reilly, who also represents that town but could not make the meeting. Board chair Deb Brown had appointed one member from each of the four towns that make up the district. Andover was represented by Scott Kendall, Baltimore by Adrienne Williams and Chester by Katie Murphy. The group elected Williams to the chair the committee and Two Rivers Supervisory Union Superintendent Lauren Fierman handed out a spreadsheet showing how many students are at each school and how the cost of operating the schools works out for each. Williams was careful to note that this is not the cost per equalized pupil, but a rough estimate that includes both the cost of operating each school as well as each school’s portion of “district costs,” which includes nursing, IT and transportation.

What that showed was that with 79 students, the cost per student for the 2022-23 budget year at Cavendish Town Elementary is about $29,000 while Chester-Andover Elementary spends around $21,000 for each of its 225 students and the Green Mountain High School’s 328 students cost about $23,000 each.

Elected chair of the committee, Adrienne Williams came to the conclusion that ‘we don’t even know what we don’t know.’ Telegraph file foto

Jump forward to the 2023-24 budget and while GM and CAES are holding at their pupil count, Cavendish is projected to lose nearly 18 percent (or 14) of its students, bringing the cost per student to over $35,000. That’s a $6,000 per student increase while the other two schools see increases of about $2,000 per student.

The job of the committee – as Williams read aloud – is to come up with all of the possibles scenarios for “right sizing” the schools to best use the district’s buildings along with the pros and cons of each and present its findings to the GM board.

This led to a discussion of transportation, which has been a problem for several years. While the district has eight buses, it has only two and a half drivers (three for the morning, but only two for the afternoon).  The shortage remains despite the fact that the district pays more than most schools in the area — and even Chittenden County, said Todd Parah who used to manage district transportation. The main reasons for this are federal regulations that mandate 40 hours of extra training for drivers over and above their CDL licenses and the lack of places to get that training in Vermont. In addition, Fierman noted that many people are not enthusiastic about driving a bus full of children.

Fierman refocused the committee, noting that it can’t fix the transportation problem and the schools still need to be right-sized. Williams suggested making a list of scenarios as a first step.

Steve Perani suggests marketing as a way to bring students into Cavendish Elementary

Perani suggested putting Pre-K for the district into Cavendish and assigning families from Baltimore and the northern portion of Chester to Cavendish. Saying that CTES has excellent, experienced teachers, Perani pointed to marketing as a way to attract students and pointed to how Randolph went from almost being closed but hustled to become the early education center for their district. Fierman said that an underused building in a school system she worked for became a language immersion school.

Williams suggested splitting up the grades with all K-3 students attending Cavendish and grades 4-6 going to CAES. She said that having all the students in each grade together would make it easier when they enter high school.

Katie Murphy thought that K-2 was a more likely split with three grades in the smaller Cavendish school and four at CAES, with the possibility of sending the sixth graders to the middle school.  Fierman pointed to the numbers saying that K-2 at CTES would be 93 students while grades 3-6 at CAES would be 188, which is closer to right sizing.

“We don’t even know what we don’t know yet,” said Williams who asked for more information about items like the capacity of the schools and how many students classrooms could hold.

Perani was interested in demographic information that would show where parents of schoolchildren are living and what the projections are for student numbers. He thought that the committee should be looking at something like three, five and 10-year projections.

With the committee’s approval, Fierman said that she would look at the cost hiring firms that do such research.

The Telegraph asked if the committee would analyze the effect of restructuring on student populations as parents decide to home-school, enroll their children in private schools or move away.

Along the way, there was discussion of working with Ludlow Elementary on solutions and Fierman said she would be very happy if that could be done, but since Act 46 mergers have created two districts – which are recognized as municipalities by the state – combining the two is much easier said than done. Fierman said the number of elementary students allowed for school choice is limited and set annually by each district’s school board.

While Cavendish reps to the GM board have said there is a great deal of interest and anxiety around this subject, the number of people attending the meeting – in person or via Zoom – didn’t bear that out. While two Cavendish residents made their way to the GM library, Fierman said there were just a few – two or three at any given time online. Two of those were the principal and assistant principal of CAES and another was a Ludlow resident.

The next meeting of the School Restructuring Committee will be at 6 p.m. on Monday, June 5 in the library of the Green Mountain High School, 716 VT-103 in Chester.

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  1. Geraldine Williams says:

    With all of the restructuring of schools and changes in contracts. Would it be possible that the contracts that were drawn up during the 1970’s forming the GMUHS Union are no longer valid? Does this also change the CAES Union between Chester and Andover? All of this restructuring with the state at the helm is ruining education and communities. There is no local voice. Very sad.

  2. Robin Bebo-Long says:

    I’m confused by the numbers here. I currently have 18 students in the 6th grade. There are 13 incoming kindergartners that have registered. 18-13=5, not 14.

  3. Ralph Pace says:

    It sounds like the restructuring committee will have its hands full, especially if Ludlow and Mt Holly Elementary Schools are excluded from consideration. I would think that, given the quoted costs per student, two of the four schools in the supervisory union may need to be closed. One of those closures probably should involve LES and Mt Holly. School closures is a very unpopular matter but it is becoming essential if costs are to sustained at a reasonable level while still providing a desired level of education to the children.