School budget talks last month again focused on Colchester Middle School, where district leaders hope to mitigate class sizes and attract new tuition students – and the money that comes with them.
Though superintendent Amy Minor formally requested the board maintain funding as-is, she asked trustees to consider a handful of new positions if they decide to ask voters for more funding.
Topping her “Priority A” list were three new full-time jobs at CMS: two classroom teachers and a 6-12 instructional coach. She said those moves would help address the large class sizes projected in the upcoming school year while also allowing the district to take on students from Grand Isle School, which will end its seventh and eighth grade instruction after this school year. She also suggested installing a part-time English language teacher.
Currently, class sizes at CMS hover around 27 students per class in grades seven and eight, respectively, according to principal Michele Coté, who said a three-year analysis shows that number could jump as high as 30 students per room if staffing levels remain stagnant. The state of Vermont recommends a student teacher ratio of 25 students per classroom.
Adding two teachers would shrink class sizes to about 22 or 23 students for both grades, Coté said. Minor said that would stay below the 16-teacher threshold the district previously set to address a similarly burgeoning student population several years ago.
“That’s important to say,” vice chairman Lincoln White said. “We’re not even going back to where we were for our staff. We made some very drastic cuts and class sizes have bumped back up, and we’re trying to accommodate.”
Currently, 31 of the district’s 49 tuition students hail from Grand Isle. With its school closure, 30 more sixth- and seventh-graders from the islands must find a new middle school next year. Given its proximity, Colchester seems a logical choice, but Minor said current class sizes at CMS would make it difficult to accept any new tuition students.
“If [tuition students] don’t come to Colchester in grade seven, then we most likely will not recoup that revenue that we are currently getting on an annual basis from Grand Isle School, which we rely on as revenue in the budget,” she said. She added that whichever district these students choose for middle school will most likely be where they attend high school.
More faculty and smaller class sizes would allow CMS to accept more tuition students from surrounding communities, Minor said. Board clerk Craig Kieny noted the tuition from these students could potentially cover the expense of adding faculty at the middle school.
The district’s second budget priority is adding up to two new instructional coaches for grades 6-12. CSD now has two grant-funded instructional coaches who work in the elementary schools and serve part-time as district coordinators.
But curriculum director Gwen Carmolli said there’s a “large number” of teachers the coaches can’t meet with. “This is a request to go into the broader budget to say, ‘We need more support,’” she said.
The two new coaches would mainly serve the middle school, where Carmolli said SBAC and local test scores show the highest need for instructional coaching.
Since joining the district eight years ago, instructional coaches have helped increase those scores while also aiding in professional development and conversations about data.
“We’re making incremental growth and we’re seeing tremendous professional development on the ground that’s turning into instructional practice,” Carmolli said.
A third priority for the district is adding a part time English language instructor to help with a growing population of foreign language speakers.
“The problem is we need all three [A-list priorities],” chairman Mike Rogers said. “We needed them last year.” Still, he said each request will come down to the cost and the total budget increase.