On Tuesday, November 3, the Warren School Board revisited safety issues with the building and playground that were reported by the Vermont School Board Insurance Trust (VSBIT) last August. They viewed a letter from Secretary of Education Rebecca Holcombe in which Holcombe states that Warren Elementary School “owes a duty of care to its students to protect them from unreasonable risk” and must submit a corrective action plan by December 1 of this year.
Holcombe’s letter is in response to a letter that Washington West Supervisory Union (WWSU) superintendent Brigid Scheffert Nease wrote to Holcombe, in which Scheffert Nease said, “I am looking for guidance as to what I can do legally as a superintendent of schools to get these safety concerns mitigated as soon as possible to prevent a student from getting injured.”
In the letter and at the school board meeting, Scheffert Nease pointed out that these reported safety violations are not new—that former administrators and board members became aware of the hazards in 2009, but “most corrections have not been made,” she said.
While VSBIT can only make recommendations for safety, the board agreed that each hazard should be remedied as soon as possible. Scheffert Nease asked board members to “consider the liability for every day that goes by.”
Scheffert Nease said she was “bothered” by the reaction of community members at a September 1 meeting in which they expressed concern regarding who wrote the letter to Holcombe and why. “We should put a little more focus on the severity of the reports,” she said.
If hazards are not addressed adequately, Scheffert Nease explained, Warren Elementary School could be closed and the federal government could revoke funding as well as its license.
Community members questioned why the board did not notify the public when a safety audit was conducted in 2009 and the hazards were first identified. Regarding safety concerns found on the playground, Scheffert Nease replied that former administrators and board members “liked the equipment how it was.”
The board discussed several safety concerns, such as mold found in classrooms that was painted over, asbestos beneath deteriorating floor tiles, unstable hardware holding up stage curtains and numerous hazards on the playground.
Scheffert Nease said that the school will perform radon testing to detect additional asbestos. The board will obtain a list of security measures from Fayston and Waitsfield Elementary schools for use as a template by the next school board meeting.
“It’s not a one-shot deal,” Scheffert Nease said, explaining that the board should consider larger renovations at the same time that they repair exterior safety hazards. The board hopes to complete several projects next summer, but funding for those projects must come from a bond vote.
The board will organize volunteer days, in which the community can help to repair damages and perform tasks that do not require a licensed contractor. They discussed how repairs would be paid for, and Warren School Board member Alycia Biondo said that the implementation of a consolidated budget under Act 46 would benefit Warren Elementary School because costs could be shared by all towns.
Regardless of how costs will be covered for these repairs, the board has “serious outside forces to attend to,” board member Matthew Staples said.