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  • 6/26/20 Letter from Mary Cullinane, ACSD Board Chair

    Posted by Mary Cullinane on 6/26/2020
    In March, as COVID-19 forced unprecedented changes for our learning community and created so much uncertainty for our district, state, and nation, the ACSD Board put the process of considering various facilities scenarios on hold. At that time, all attention had to be focused on ensuring our learners, families, educators, and staff felt safe and had access to needed resources. Now, as the consequences of COVID have materialized, we find ourselves facing a set of extreme circumstances that compel us to act. 
     
    The financial future of Vermont will be increasingly challenging over the next few years, facing an estimated $100 million deficit for this coming school year (FY21) and an even greater threat for FY22. We are not unique in this challenge. Districts around the country are anticipating cuts as high as 25%. Moreover, our state projects that this will most likely be a multi-year fiscal challenge and that spending cuts will not be limited to FY22.  With deficits this high, we will be required to make significant cuts in all areas of our budget, including staffing. Clearly, this new financial backdrop makes our facilities discussion that much more urgent and imperative, and because of this we have resumed the process. Our responsible actions in this area will enable us to minimize staff reductions and allow us to continue towards our goal of providing an equitable and exceptional learning environment for all.
     
    We are fortunate and grateful that with the work we have already done, we are poised to be proactive in addressing our financial challenges. We are committed to doing our best to focus the Facilities Master Planning process on keeping values of ACSD intact while creating new reality for how we deliver education to all students. And most importantly, we remain committed to improving our communication, engagement, and transparency during this process.
     
    Currently:
    • We are examining 3 and 4 school models, given that these models can accommodate our student body using existing facilities and do not require us to propose a bond.
    • We are now analyzing and understanding the next layers of need for the 3 and 4 school models.  Principals are looking at capacity, educational programming, and staffing, for example.  While there is no set timeline, this work will continue into the summer. Our goal is to get it right to the best of our ability with the data we have at hand. While the Board is considering the information provided by TruexCullins, board discussions will be ongoing regarding critical design elements such as creating diverse communities of learners, educational support services and transportation.
    • Our current fiscal year (FY20) ends in June. We begin FY21 July 1st. Planning for FY22 begins in November. Given our budget challenges will be most grave in FY22, it is imperative that we are proactive, prepared and have a clear understanding of our options.
    This is a lot. It’s unsettling and it calls on us to be open to ideas that we would once never consider. Please know, we recognize our responsibility to engage and maintain connection with our community stakeholders in multiple ways. Through COVID-19 we demonstrated that together, we can do things that seem impossible. With empathy and focus required now more than ever, we are working on multiple pathways for information dissemination, exchanges, and listening. We must all engage and with our new Board Update webpage currently in construction, you will soon be able to keep current on information and planning.  For example, we will be scheduling “Porch Conversations,” both socially-distanced and virtual starting in July. I look forward to your invitation! We also encourage stakeholders to attend board meetings as the most direct way to receive information and hear how the board is weighing the issues. We anticipate decision points where we will seek community feedback regarding options and will be reaching out. 
     
    Above all, we want the ACSD community to understand that we are responding to this crisis so that we can continue the excellent work we do as a learning community. Financial challenges were already present, and the pandemic has only exacerbated them to a level of urgency that we cannot ignore. While the time frame may feel accelerated, we pledge to bring transparency and thoughtfulness to this process. We also recognize that during this time of COVID, anxiety is already high and our community is experiencing the pandemic in many different ways. We must look to each other for support, empathize with our neighbor and understand the work ahead will be difficult, but necessary.
     
    Thank you in advance for all you are doing to support each other during these unprecedented times.
     
    Be well,
    Mary
     
    (This letter appeared in the School Board Newsletter on June 26, 2020.  The full newsletter can be viewed by following this link.)
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