By Christine Sullivan
I would like to add further information to the June 8 Valley Reporter article regarding enrollment numbers. We are aware that, as a district, we suffer from attrition in general. If one takes the time to verify this by examining the enrollment numbers available on the Washington West Supervisory Union (WWSU) website, easily accessible as part of the November 9 board agenda materials, it does not take much to surmise that this problem is pervasive throughout our system. Harwood simply suffers the combined effect.
In comparing projected fall 2017 enrollment numbers to the actual 2009 count, one sees the following: Fayston Elementary’s 2017 enrollment will be 76 percent of what it was in 2009 (down from 112 to 86 K-6 students), Waitsfield’s 70 percent (from 154 to 108), Moretown’s 85 percent (from 120 to 103), and Warren’s 93 percent (from 148 to 138). Harwood’s 2017 projection is 86 percent of its 2009 actual enrollment (780 to 673). After an enrollment dip at Harwood Middle School, 2017 enrollment is actually projected to be 102 percent of what it was in 2009. Waterbury/Duxbury schools bolster the system with projected 2017 enrollment increases: Thatcher Brook will be at 112 percent (from 343 to 386) and Crossett Brook at 103 percent (from 283 to 292) of their 2009 enrollment.
Clearly, declining enrollment will continue to be a problem throughout our system, as it is throughout Vermont, as we move forward as a unified district. It was, in fact, a significant reason for unifying. Being one district allows us the flexibility to respond to this issue by taking advantage of options not previously available to us as individual districts. However, if we fail to acknowledge the reality of this problem which exists throughout our system and refuse to respond by making difficult decisions, we will never be able to achieve cost savings that will allow us to reinvest in our middle and high schools with the hope of improving educational programming and facilities. These improvements would benefit students from all our towns and might actually draw more students and families to our district and schools.
The article quotes a board member who characterized the administration as unwilling to discuss these numbers. I feel that this is unfair. The administration acknowledges that there is a defined protocol that individual board members and committees of the board should follow in directing their work. Per Harwood Unified Union School District (HUUSD) policy (also available on the website), individual board members shall not communicate directly with staff members except at the direction of the school board (C5). Furthermore, it is the full board which directs the work of committees, not the other way around (C10).
As the article states, the net flow analysis was not warned as part of the agenda. As the board chair, it is my understanding that there was never a full board discussion and vote on a motion requesting the administration to conduct and present such a study of enrollment numbers. Board members may request of the board chair or superintendent that items be included on the agenda. During additions/deletions, they may make a motion requesting an item be added to the agenda, which can be done with a majority vote of the board (C1). Or, they may bring it up as new business during the section of our meetings when we discuss future agenda planning. As chair, it is my hope we set a precedence for future boards by adhering to our own policies and procedures. Doing so and being able to expect the same from board colleagues and administrators will only help to establish the trust and mutual respect needed as we move forward as a unified board.
Sullivan, Waitsfield, is the chair of the Harwood Unified Union School District.