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Track Project Approved Amid Questions About Student Performance

Man in bright yellow jacket with yellow plants running on red-cinder track with fence in foreground.
Bob Barrett rounds the west end of the red clay Montpelier High School track where it is tight against the recreation path along the Winooski river. Photo by J. Gregory Gerdel.
The Montpelier Roxbury School Board recently voted to allocate an additional $400,000 to the $1.5 million previously committed to fund a new track at Montpelier High School. There is no impact on taxes of this project, the board said, as the track will be paid for with money in the current fiscal year budget.

Facilities director Andrew LaRosa was charged with redefining the scope of the project with the engineering consultants and will present revised drawings and cost estimates to the board. The project will be put out to bid to prequalified construction firms by March and construction of the track could begin June. Completion of the new track would be either by the summer of 2023, or spring of 2024. 

LaRosa previously verified that there are no acute facilities needs other than the track. Photos of the track displayed at the meeting documented its current state of disrepair.  Superintendent Libby Bonesteel confirmed there is an adequate fund balance to meet  “rainy day” needs, even after paying for a new track. 

Heartfelt public and board input made the decision to allocate an additional $400,000 to fund the track more difficult. 

Lisa Burns, a parent of students in the district, framed the decision the board needed to make as either right or wrong: “Given a choice of a track for $2 million or $2 million to fund education. I would 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 now more than anything is community-building and track is one way that can definitely be done. Mental health and physical health, from all the things we’ve lost with COVID, track and field and cross country have been a great way to improve all of that.” 

Mia Moore, vice-chair of the board,  suggested “we direct that one of our committees designs and conducts a process for determining how to spend these excess funds.” Rhett Williams disagreed stating “I don’t see how extending a process that has gotten to be sort of contaminated with bad information is going to make it better.”

 “I’m really disappointed and upset by the amount of information and how personal and unhelpful it has become because it really allowed the conversation to get clouded,” said board member Jill Remick.

Concerns by board members about responsible use of the fund balance to purchase unnamed student supports were overcome with information provided by the administration. The administration had no list of unprovided academic support to suggest. Local academic progress monitoring, screening, and test data indicated no educational loss due to COVID-19.

“We don’t have evidence of significant learning losses for the majority of our students. We have evidence of loss in other areas,but not in learning data,” Bonesteel said.  MRPS students are at or above the SBAC state-mandated test of English Language Arts and Math, Bonesteel said, except for fourth-grade math and the Roxbury Village School.

Bonesteel acknowledged the schools are continuing to develop a system of supports to address academic, behavioral, and emotional needs, especially of students on free and reduced lunch, on Section 504 plans, or on Individual Education Plans. 

Bonesteel noted that ”students who are eligible for free and reduced lunch and students with disabilities are over-represented in the students who have SEL (Social Emotional Learning) incidents in our systems. This school year we’re again seeing free and reduced lunch 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 reduced are chronically absent.”