Members of the Harwood Unified Union School District (HUUSD) Board remain divided on the issue of whether or not to send all seventh- and eighth-graders in the district to Crossett Brook Middle School (CBMS) starting next fall and whether and when to present a $21 million bond vote to renovate Harwood Union High School to bring it up to code.
At an emotional meeting on February 20, board chair Christine Sullivan asked the board to consider a motion to move the seventh- and eighth-graders to CBMS so that the board could discuss the idea. In January, HUUSD Superintendent Brigid Nease told the board that her preliminary research showed that all seventh- and eighth-grade students would fit at CBMS, which would save about $1million in operating costs annually. She also told the board that despite prior estimates showing that it would cost $4 million to $8 million to retrofit CBMS for the new students, she felt it could be done for much less or even at no cost.
Since that announcement the executive facilities committee (EFC), which has been charged with addressing the middle school issue as well as the Harwood Union bond issue, has further researched the idea and supports it. The EFC includes board and administration members as well as paid consultants. On February 13, the committee planned to present three potential HU bond scenarios to the board including a bare-bones option that addresses necessities, a second option that included necessities as well as more upgrades that the administration wants and a third “pie in the sky” option. That meeting was canceled due to weather.
SUPPORT AND RESERVATIONS
Asked to address the middle school issue at last week’s meeting, board members offered support for the idea as well as strong reservations, questioning how this decision was back before the board after a similar (and potentially costlier) proposal was rejected in October.
Some board members felt it was premature to make the decision because there had been no specific community outreach on this new proposal. Others said they still had many unanswered questions about the specifics and logistics of the proposal. Others asked whether the board could make the HU bond decision without completing the district redesign process, which would determine where the seventh- and eighth-graders end up.
Nease told the board that her team had started to do the work to sort out the logistics and costs of moving all seventh- and eighth-graders to CBMS but had been told to stop by the board.
“We were looking at many of these questions about ‘What would it look like?’ and we had 10 different models that we were willing to cost out and give you the details on after the white paper, including a middle school in The Valley. We were told, ‘Stop.’ The indecision of the board right now is really detrimental to the district," Nease said noting that eight Valley families want to use district choice to send their kids to CBMS and there are more pending.
Nease went on to detail work she’d done with Fayston Elementary School Principal Jean Berthiaume on that school’s enrollment. She said 71 to 72 students had been projected for next year and that number is now down to 61 students.
“We anticipate no third grade there. In second grade this year we have five students; two have already moved due to inner district choice and one is moving out of town which leaves two left. A school district cannot provide a quality experience for two kids in a class. The kindergarten in Fayston next year will have six or seven kids. That's the same way that the second-grade class began. On any given day one or two of those little ones is not there. That provides a class of four or five,” said Nease.
When building administrators weighed in, some board members were disheartened to hear Atwood talk about her frustration with the bond process and the fact that families were opting out of Harwood for other central and northern Vermont high schools.
“We got here because we were not willing to do the work, have the hard conversations that needed to be had two years ago when we were promising fiscal responsibility and promising consolidation and we were promising best learning opportunities for all our kids. Because they are all our kids, they are all my kids, they all come to Harwood. Then to be told by this board to take care of what you need in the high school and only do the minimum in the middle school ’cause we don’t know what we’re doing yet. As a middle school teacher, do you know what kind of message that sends? As a middle school student, do you know what kind of message that sends? It clearly identifies the priorities. High school matters; right now middle school doesn’t.”
The board tabled the proposal and discussion.