Vermont

Track Project Approved Amid Questions About Student Performance

Man in light yellow jacket with yellow plants walking on red cinder track with fence in foreground.
Bob Barrett circumnavigates the west end of Montpelier High School’s Rottonweg where it closely adjoins the recreation trail along the Winooski River. Photo by J Gregory Gerdel.

The Montpelier Roxbury School Board recently decided to allocate an additional $400,000 to the previously allocated $1.5 million to fund a new career at Montpelier High School. This project has no tax implications, the board said, as the route will be paid for with funds from the current fiscal year’s budget. Facilities Director Andrew LaRosa has been tasked with redefining the scope of the project with the technical consultants and will provide revised drawings and cost estimates to the board. The project will be tendered to pre-qualified construction companies by March, and construction of the line could begin in June. Completion of the new route would take place either in the summer of 2023 or in the spring of 2024. LaRosa has previously confirmed that there is no acute need for facilities other than the track. Photos of the route shown at the meeting documented the current state of decay. Superintendent Libby Bonesteel confirmed that there are sufficient funds to meet “rainy day” needs, even after paying for a new route. Warm input from the public and board complicated the decision to allocate an additional $400,000 to fund the route.

Lisa Burns, a parent of students in the district, phrased the decision the board had to make as right or wrong: “If you have a choice of a $2 million track or $2 million to fund education. I want to ask you to do the right thing.” Kathryn Nunnelley, a former educator and mother of Jacob, a track and field athlete at Main Street Middle School, had a different perspective: “What we need more than anything right now is community building, and Athletics is a possibility that can definitely be achieved. Mental health and physical health, of all the things that we’ve lost with COVID, athletics and cross country have been a great way to improve all of that.” Mia Moore, vice chairman of the board, suggested, “we’re directing that one of our committees is designing and implementing a process to determine how these excess funds are to be spent.” Rhett Williams disagreed, saying, “I don’t see how prolonging a process that has been contaminated with bad information is going to improve it “I’m really disappointed and upset by the amount of information and how personal and unhelpful it has become because it could really cloud the conversation,” said board member Jill Remick. Concerns from board members about the responsible use of the fund balance to purchase undisclosed student supports have been addressed with information provided by administration. The administration had no list of unprovided academic support to propose. Local academic progress monitoring, screening and testing data showed no loss of education due to COVID-19. “We have no evidence of significant learning losses for the majority of our students. We have evidence of losses in other areas, but not in learning data,” Bonesteel said. MRPS students have met or exceeded the state-mandated SBAC test in English language arts and math, Bonesteel said, with the exception of fourth-grade math and Roxbury Village School. Bonesteel acknowledged that schools continue to develop a system of support to address academic, behavioral and emotional needs, particularly for students with free and discounted lunches, under Section 504 plans or individual education plans. Bonesteel found that “students who are eligible for free and discounted lunches and students with disabilities are overrepresented in our systems among students with social emotional learning (SEL) incidents. This school year, we’re again seeing free and discounted lunches as the highest rates of chronic absenteeism. So while only 27.4% of students are chronically absent, 40.3% of students who are free and concessionary are chronically absent.”

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