MEETING OF THE
MONTPELIER BOARD OF SCHOOL COMMISSIONERS
February 4, 2015
Minutes Approved: February 18, 2015
Board: Sue Aldrich, Jennifer Cahill Bean, Michele Braun, Ken Jones, Carol Paquette, Charlie Phillips, Lowell VanDerlip
Administration: Superintendent Brian Ricca, Director of Facilities Thom Wood
Student: Theresa Noonon (arr. 7:18 p.m.), Alex Stetter (arr. 7:39 p.m.)
Public: Bridget Asay, Elinor Bacon, Emma Bay-Hansen, Moritz Bay-Hansen, Kristin Darcy, Suzanne Garrow, Christopher Green, Rajnish Gupta, Greg Hebert, Steve Hingtgen, George Johnson, David Lathrop, Jim Murphy, Leah Murphy Jones, David Kitchen, Melanie Meyer, Angela Mongeon, Lyn Munno, Diane Rodgers, Jenny Sheehan, Sean Sheehan, Tolya Stonorov, Nathan Suter, and others
Call to Order The meeting was called to order at 7:03 p.m.
Adjust/Review Agenda No changes.
Public Comments None.
Update on Facilities Director of Facilities Thom Wood provided updates on capital improvement projects, fuel oil purchasing, the status of the contract for the fifth grade relocation to MSMS, solar RFPs and contract opportunities for net metering.
Discuss 3rd Grade Class Size at UES for 2015-2016 There was continued discussion from the January 21, 2015 meeting in regard to the plan to end looping and reduce a teacher from the 2/3 loop at UES for next year. At the request of Mr. Jones, Superintendent Ricca provided a summary of the procedural process to this point. Parents submitted a letter expressing their concerns and produced class size data and information in furtherance of their opposition to the planned changes. Parent Jim Murphy said the decision to reduce the number of teachers for next year’s third grade class is a major pedagogical shift which is not in the best interest of the children. He said it is something that needs to be corrected and the Board needs to ultimately add a fifth teacher back into the third grade mix for next year. The parents also expressed major concerns about the lack of public process. Mr. Murphy said the one thing that has really troubled the parents is that no one has stated that the decision to increase class size for the upcoming third grade is in the best educational interest of the children; rather, what they have heard is that increasing class size is something that can be managed and something the teachers have ultimately said they will work with. The parents do not think that should be an acceptable goal.
The parents said they believe the primary driver for the decision to increase class size for next year’s third grade was probably budgetary. They said they were well aware of the budgetary and political pressures faced by the Board and the administration, and they understood why the administration might not see this as a prudent time to request additional resources from the Board even though the student body at UES next year and for years to come really demands an additional teacher to maintain proper class sizes in each grade. The parents said they wanted to ensure that resource concerns do not undermine learning outcomes for the students.
The parents also asked the Board to revisit the policy behind the decision to increase class sizes for the upcoming third grade. They said the policy should be applied in a way that focuses on optimal class size rather than the way they feel it was applied in this instance. They do not believe the policy is providing good guidance in ensuring that individual classes, not the cluster, fall as close to optimal numbers as possible and therefore should be revised. The parents believe they should have been involved in the decision making process earlier and said they were disappointed that they were not informed of the change until after the Board passed the budget. They believe a change this significant should have community and parental involvement much earlier in the process to ensure they are agents in the decision making.
The parents made some requests of the Board going forward. They asked that the Board adopt a provision to the academic planning calendar that includes a one month period for public comment on the proposed school budget and the academic year. They also requested a minimum of one open forum for budgets and planning before they are finalized.
UES class size data was presented, as well as a handout entitled “Correlation between class size and academic achievement in 3rd grade at UES?”
Mrs. Aldrich replied to the parents by saying that no one saw the plan to end looping and increase class size for next year’s third grade as a red flag. She said it was not a closed process on purpose and not decisions that anyone tried to hide from the parents. She said the proposed forum sounded like a great idea. Mr. Phillips advised as to the additional resource of a special educator for UES next year which will hopefully help with the somewhat larger class sizes at the third grade level. He added that the Board needs to be able to make adjustments as it goes along. Mrs. Braun said that while it was exciting to have supporters and enthusiasm for academic rigor and public education, she does not feel the Board can pick what gets funded over the decisions of Principal Hennessey. She said he had hard choices to make and she believes the choices he made were reasonable. Mr. Jones said he was hopeful that the changes and reallocation of stated resources planned for UES next year would mean success. Mrs. Bean said she welcomed and encouraged the parent participation seen by the Board tonight. She acknowledged that she is not an expert in education and said this was a decision that she really looked to the administration to make. She reminded those in attendance that the Board is slated to have a class size policy discussion in April. Mr. VanDerlip said he supported the Administrative Team’s decision on this with some reservations about the process and a willingness should this class grow in size over the spring to take another look at things. Mrs. Aldrich said she was confident that the Administrative Team would do their best to watch this grade for problems and promised that the Board would address it should this class grow in size. Ms. Paquette reiterated that no one saw this as a red flag or recognized that it was going to be a big issue. She said if the Administrative Team is comfortable with it, then she trusts their decisions.
Lyn Munno clarified that the parents were not asking the Board tonight for a fifth teacher for next year’s third grade class, but rather were asking the Board to give the administration some guidance to encourage them to meet with this group of kids’ current teachers to see how things are working for these kids, what the particular academic challenges for this group are, and what things will look like for these kids if they have larger classes next year. Mr. Phillips confirmed Superintendent Ricca’s stated plan of Principal Hennessey collaborating with the educators at UES once the results of the budget vote are in to establish standards to remain open to the possibility of the need for another teacher at the third grade level next year. Superintendent Ricca stressed that this is about UES and any future discussions about the possibility of adding another teacher at the third grade level for next year must be in the context of other things happening in the UES building. He went on to say that these discussions will include all of the educators at UES and not just the current second grade teachers. Mr. Jones said he saw no reason to wait until after the budget vote to begin those discussions because the budget decision has no specific relationship to the discussions.
Sarah McKearnan provided the Board with an update on the Land and Water Conservation Fund application which, if approved, will be used to help fund the UES playground project.
Review Superintendent Limitations Policies in Preparation for Upcoming Reports
2.4 Financial Planning and Budgeting Paragraph #3 and paragraph #6 were identified as areas for reporting.
2.6 Asset Protection No areas identified for reporting.
2.8 Communication and Support to the Board Mr. Phillips proposed reviewing this policy in a broader content. Following discussion, there was consensus to include the policy as a stand-alone item on a future agenda.
Review and Discuss “Gold Policies” Passed over.
Update on International Students at MHS Superintendent Ricca reported that there are five new Chinese students at MHS for the second semester. Each student has participated in an orientation session and was assigned a student mentor. The students seem to be adjusting to the school’s systems, expectations and culture. The greatest challenge has been communicating in academic language and the faculty has been discussing appropriate expectations and the level to which these students understand verbal and written instruction.
Policies: Adoption of Board Member Conflict of Interest, Participation of Home Study Students, Limited English Proficiency Students and Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act Compliance
Mr. Jones moved, seconded by Mr. Phillips, to adopt the Board Member Conflict of Interest, Participation of Home Study Students, Limited English Proficiency Students and Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act Compliance policies as presented. Motion carried unanimously.
Minutes of January 21, 2015
Mr. Phillips moved, seconded by Mrs. Bean, to approve the consent agenda including minutes of the January 21, 2015 regular meeting with one correction as noted by Mrs. Braun, and Warrants 42 and 43 dated February 12, 2015 in the amounts of $514,137.28 and $34,394.37 respectively. Motion carried unanimously.
Announcements/Review Meeting (+/∆)
The Edutopia videos were very well done, great recognition for the District.
Executive Session Mr. Phillips moved that the Board find that discussing contract negotiations in open session would put the Board at a substantial disadvantage. Mr. VanDerlip seconded and the motion carried unanimously at 9:28 p.m. Mr. Jones moved that the Board enter into executive session in accordance with 1 VSA §313 to discuss contract negotiations. Mrs. Bean seconded and the motion carried unanimously at 9:28 p.m. On a motion duly made and seconded, the Board voted unanimously to leave Executive Session at 9:50 p.m.
Adjournment On a motion duly made and seconded, the Board voted unanimously to adjourn at 9:50 p.m.