BURLINGTON – Parents of Burlington students filled the School Committee room to express their opinions on addressing the surging capacity issues in the district’s elementary schools.
Much of the conversation revolved around the desired school configuration. Due to anticipated enrollment growth over the next decade, the School Committee has been brainstorming potential plans to add more elementary classrooms. The plan would ultimately entail a proposal to the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) for a new school.
With this in mind, a recurring agenda item for the School Committee revolves around discussing multiple options in order to move forward with the most practical solution for the district.
The major obstacle facing the district right now, and over the next 10 years, pertains to addressing the existing elementary school building needs, which are a result of the constant increase in elementary enrollment numbers. This initiative is the leading candidate to replace the Burlington High School HVAC and science classroom upgrades proposed project as the formal submission to the MSBA as a statement of interest.
With elementary enrollment most problematic at the Fox Hill and Pine Glen Elementary Schools, the tentative options are to maintain the current 4-school, 4-site configuration; maintain a 4-school configuration, but build two elementary schools on the Fox Hill site with shared common spaces and give up the Pine Glen site, resulting in a 3-site configuration; create a 3-school elementary configuration with a large Fox Hill (similar to Francis Wyman size) and give up Pine Glen as elementary school; or convert Pine Glen to a pre-K early childhood center, resulting in three elementary school constituted for grades 1-5.
Even if the elementary enrollment statement of interest was selected by the MSBA, School Supt. Dr. Eric Conti asserted it would take several years to see the end of the project come to fruition. If/When the district got there, the in-depth discussion of reconfiguring the district would be the top priority.
Continuing with four elementary schools would maintain the same curriculum and program infrastructure that exists today, as opposed to the uncertainties of one giant school that would be too large to function normally in this school district, or creating a scenario where all the district’s 5th graders were enrolled at the same school.
The public says …
Before the public expressed their opinions, School Committee Chair Martha Simon reiterated the board’s appreciation of having public input.
“This is the beginning,” said Simon. “We want to make sure we have input from all the stakeholders in town, especially parents whose kids are going to be affected by these decisions.”
One parent in attendance, who works as an educational professional in a nearby district, prefers Burlington doesn’t move forward with the option to merge the Pine Glen and Fox Hill Elementary Schools into on big elementary school. The parent referenced negative results from experiencing such a scenario in another district.
“A lot of problems arose when two schools merged into one. Resources were lost, such as two staff positions being reduced to one,” explained the parent. “If you combine two schools into one, the staff resources can be consolidated and students are put in a disadvantage with half the staff members for twice the amount of students.”
Many parents recommended their wish to see the district continue with the existing 4-school model at the elementary level, or at least three schools.
“This would ensure equity across the district for our elementary schools,” professed one parent.
With that notion in mind, the School Committee agreed the 3-or 4-school model is what they prefer but recognized they don’t even know if it is feasible to build on the Fox Hill Elementary School site. This is an aspect that would be dealt with through the MSBA via a feasibility study.
Selectman Joseph Morandi spoke about the pressing needs facing the school district, something he realized after recently taking a tour of the Fox Hill and Pine Glen Elementary Schools.
“I once thought a new Police Station was the next big initiative on the town’s to-do list, but that changed after I visited those two elementary schools,” remarked Morandi. “I want to commend the School Committee and parents here tonight for pursuing this initiative.”
With this public hearing deemed as just the tip of the iceberg for addressing the capacity issues in the district’s elementary schools, expect this matter to continue to be a recurring agenda item for the School Committee.