Bennington considers plan that would shift students between schools
By Patrick McArdle
STAFF WRITER | January 18,2013
BENNINGTON — A plan for rearranging districts and, therefore, changing the elementary schools that local students attend could affect as many as 100, or about 15 percent, of the students who attend the Bennington, Molly Stark or Monument elementary schools.
Richard Pembroke, chief financial officer of the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union, presented the results of the redistricting plan to the Bennington School Board during a special meeting Tuesday.
There was not a quorum at the meeting so the board could not take any official action.
The proposal estimates there would be about 650 students in the district’s three elementary schools for the 2013-14 school year who could be affected. Kindergarten students would not be changing schools so they were not counted among those affected.
If the school district changed the district lines, students who currently attend one elementary school could attend a different school next year. The proposal reviewed Tuesday would send 97 students from 80 households to a different school.
However, Pembroke pointed out that students who are now in fourth grade could opt out of moving if the student and the student’s parents wanted the student to complete his or her elementary education at the same school. There are 21 students in that position and if they all opted not to change schools, the redistricting would affect 76 students in the district.
The goal of changing the district lines is to keep class sizes small at all the schools in the district and to reflect the capacity of the different schools. Administrators are also working to keep the numbers of students who receive free or reduced lunches proportionate among the three schools and a roughly even split between the genders at each school.
After a computer model was created of different neighborhoods in Bennington, which started with the assumption that all students were attending the correct school based on the location of the student’s home, administrators found that swapping two areas got them “pretty close” to the goal. The swaps would be in areas that send students to Bennington and Molly Stark.
If the supervisory union does not rearrange the district lines, a third grade teacher will have to hired to handle the large number of students in that grade at Molly Stark Elementary School. Pembroke said the cost of the new hire could add about $75,000 to next year’s budget.
However, if the district lines are changed, both Molly Stark and Monument would have to rearrange their classrooms and create combination classrooms that have students from more than one grade.
Board member Laurie Cohen said she was concerned because the building principals in the past had expressed reservations about “combo classrooms.”
“In my time on the board, we have gone back and forth on combos. We have heard a lot of negatives about combos. A lot of negatives,” she said.
On Tuesday, Donna MacKenzie King, principal at Molly Stark, and Donna Cauley, principal at Monument, supported the combo classrooms, saying they would allow educators to keep children at different achievement levels together in the same classroom.
While there couldn’t be a vote Tuesday, Pembroke said the board would have to make a decision by the end of the month so he could finish creating the budget to be put before voters in March.