Building Burlington's Future
Burlington superintendent outlines plan to shift school districts

Published Wednesday, May 9, 2007  (click here to link to original)
Burlington Free Press
By Molly Walsh
Free Press Staff Writer

Burlington could create its first magnet school and the existing boundaries for neighborhood schools would be adjusted significantly under proposals the school superintendent presented to the School Board on Tuesday night.

Jeanne Collins offered four options to the board to further the goal of demographic balance in the city's six grade schools, where the poverty rate varies from a low of just below 30 percent at Edmunds Elementary School to a high of 80 percent to 90 percent at Lawrence Barnes School and H.O. Wheeler School. The bottom line of the proposals is the same, she said: "... Is it OK to have two high-density, high-poverty schools in our system when we don't have to?"

All of the proposals come with an adjusted school boundary map. Under it, the highest elementary school poverty rate would be about 60 percent at an Old North End school. The lowest would be about 45 percent, at schools in the New North End. All of the proposals recommended the sale or lease of the Ira Allen building on Colchester Avenue, where the school district administration is housed. Those offices would be moved to the upper story of Lawrence Barnes School or the Taft School Building.

About 60 people attended the School Board meeting to hear Collins' proposals to change the demographics of city schools -- a topic that has been publicly discussed for more than a year. Opinions on the superintendent's ideas were mixed.

Stu McGowan, a Burlington parent who led a task force that recommended socio-economic integration for Burlington's elementary schools in June, called the proposals exciting and innovative. "I am so pleased that they are taking the time to think this through and get community input," he said.

McGowan praised Collins for her work and suggested that the ideas would play reasonably well with the public. "I don't think it's a huge shakeup of what's existing," the Intervale Avenue resident said.

Others weren't so sure.

Under the proposed new boundaries, significant portions of Ward 1 that are now districted to Edmunds Elementary, which has the lowest poverty rate among city schools, would be assigned to an Old North End school, either Wheeler or Barnes, depending on which school restructuring options the board chooses. Streets that would be redistricted include Brookes Avenue, and Henry, Loomis and Booth streets, according to a map in the report Collins distributed to the board.

Collins did not show the map to the public during her presentation and instead referred parents to the school district Web site, saying it would posted today. Several parents crowded around a reporter's copy of the map after the meeting. Ward 1 City Councilor Ed Adrian looked at the redistricting map and said it raised worries. "I can tell you that this is definitely an issue of concern and has been an issue of concern for the people of Ward 1."

Adrian suggested that even after the redistricting, the disparity in poverty rates would be significant. He wondered why the children in his ward would be redistricted to a school with a 60 percent poverty rate, as much as 15 points higher than other schools even after the boundary adjustments. He also questioned why Collins chose not to include the map in the PowerPoint presentation she made at the meeting.

"I think it would have added a little more validation if she had shown the map tonight," Adrian said.

Booth Street resident Meredith Woodward King, a mother of two, was pleased to see that the options included a magnet school proposal for Lawrence Barnes, now a prekindergarten through fifth-grade school. Collins offered at least three themes for consideration, including an arts and theater school and an International Baccalaureate primary school, a program that stresses foreign language instruction and rigorous academics.

"It's very exciting to see these proposals about the magnet school," King said, adding that she would consider applying for a slot for her older child, now a kindergartner at Edmunds Elementary School. King worries, though, that redistricting her neighborhood away from Edmunds Elementary to a higher-poverty school might create problems in a section of the city where residents are already dealing with student noise, parking problems and litter.

"I'm a little nervous about my neighborhood," she said. "There are a lot of people who are already putting up with a lot of stuff."

The proposed redistricting would reassign some houses on the west side of South Union from Edmunds to Champlain. The Edmunds district would be extended significantly to the northwest, jutting up part of North Avenue. In the New North End, Collins proposed that Flynn and C.P. Smith have a shared enrollment area that would allow school administrators to select children according to capacity rather than address.

"There is no more place to grow at Smith; there is space at Flynn," Collins said.

The School Board expects to make a decision on the proposals this summer and implement any changes in fall 2008. A series of public meetings will take place over the next month. For more information and a complete copy of the report go to www.bsdvt.org.

Contact Molly Walsh at 660-1874 or mwalsh@bfp.burlingtonfreepress.com