GM restructuring reboot gets under way

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2023 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Compared with recent Green Mountain Unified School District board meetings, last Thursday’s Restructuring Committee session was refreshingly low-key and constructive.

The original four member GMUSD Restructuring Committee meets for the first, and only time last May. <small>Photos by Shawn Cunningham</small>

The original four member GMUSD Restructuring Committee meets for the first, and only time last May. Photos by Shawn Cunningham

It was all the more interesting because the committee is comprised of the entire board and 10 of the 11 members were present. The original four-person committee was shelved in the wake of the mascot/branding upheaval that resulted in the resignations of board members and the superintendent.

The one hitch during Thursday’s meeting at Green Mountain High in Chester is that it had been set up without a remote access option. That was bound to be unpopular with Cavendish residents, who not only would have to travel the farthest to attend but who also believe their school to be the most affected in any restructuring. But committee chair Adrienne Williams of Baltimore opened the meeting by asking the board to add a discussion of having Zoom access for future meetings. Then committee member Steve Perani of Cavendish moved to add a discussion about rotating meetings between Chester and Cavendish. Both became part of the agenda by unanimous votes. The panel also decided to adopt a casual format rather than more formal rules of order.

Williams read the committee’s charge, which in a nutshell is to come up with all of the possible scenarios for “right sizing” the schools to best use the district’s buildings, along with the pros and cons of each. They then are to present its findings to the public during a GM board. Williams also noted that the discussion was not about school choice or the Ludlow-Mount Holly District or the transportation issues.

Chair Adrienne Williams told the committee their charge is about the best use of GMUSD assets Telegraph file photo

“This is truly about the best use of GMUSD assets,” said Williams.

Committee member Kate Lamphere of Cavendish suggested that before they begin looking at solutions it might be useful to have a shared idea of what the actual problem is that needs to be solved.

Williams said it was costs, then handed out a sheet that compared the per student cost at each school. That figure was derived by dividing the total annual cost of teachers and other personal plus building operations of a school by the number of its students. Note: This number is for comparison and is not the “equalized pupil” amount used by the state for budget and taxation calculations.

What the committee saw was that:

  • with 235 students, the annual cost per student at Chester-Andover Elementary is about $15,200;
  • the cost per student for Cavendish Town Elementary’s 77 students is about $23,500;
  • the high school has a different model, with more teachers in specialized classes. Nevertheless, the 299 students at Green Mountain cost about $19,400 each to educate.

Last week’s full board meeting of the restructuring committee was both calm and constructive

Turning to the physical capacity of each school, Cavendish was built to handle about 140 students while Chester-Andover was designed for 260. But education is practiced in a different way than it was in the 1950s and ’60s and those numbers don’t apply now. Two Rivers Supervisory Union Superintendent Lauren Fierman told the committee that a comfortable number for Cavendish would be around 110. By the same token, with the loss of the stand-alone “white house” building to flooding, CAES is “packed.”

So the question became, how do you equalize the cost per student while taking into account the strains on families such measures would create. For example, the committee discussed the idea of having a set of grades from all four of the district’s towns (Andover, Baltimore, Cavendish and Chester) at one elementary school and another set of grades at the other such as grades K-2 at one school, grades 3-5 at the other and grade 6 at the middle school.

Committee member Lois Perlah of Chester said that she had worked in a school that had only the youngest students described it as “a lovely experience” and others noted that having all of the children get to know each other before coming to middle school would give all the students the same sense of comfort and belonging.

At the same time, putting everyone in schools by grade level would either mean long bus trips for young children or parents driving their children to and from school. And with the current difficulty finding and retaining bus drivers, the latter possibility seemed more likely.

So the discussion turned to redrawing the lines that defined the area from which each school gets its students. In the past, when each school was its own district, its board had to decide how many students they might take from other schools. Since Act 46 though, there is only one district for the four towns and an elementary student can go to either of the two schools. (See: Analysis: Act 46 impacts ‘mental exercise’ of shuffling schools between districts)

The problem is knowing how many students live in each area so the schools can have the optimal number of students in each class.

Fierman pointed to the company now working on the search to replace her, saying that it will – without charge – provide some long-range demographics that would help. Assistance after that would cost money. Members asked if a representative of that company could be present at the committee meeting and Fierman said she would try to set that up.

A number of committee members noted that a priority should be improving the academic performance of the students while “family wellness” was also mentioned. In the end, members  agreed that defining the priorities was important and that they should come to the next meeting with their priorities, including what they hear from their communities. That next meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 12 at Cavendish Town Elementary, 573 Main St. in Proctorsville.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Filed Under: Education NewsFeatured

About the Author:

RSSComments (0)

Trackback URL

Comments are closed.