August 1, 2014

School board holds final bond hearing

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By Mal Boright 

Observer correspondent

October 31, 2013

Voters will head to the polls Tuesday to decide whether to approve a $1.5 million bond to construct two turf athletic fields at Champlain Valley Union High School.

Voting in Williston is set for Nov. 5 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Town Hall. For those who wish to vote early, ballots are also available at the town clerk’s office. After the polls close, ballots will be taken to CVU, where they will be mixed with those from Hinesburg, Shelburne and Charlotte.

The CVU School Board was called upon Monday to explain its decision to seek the bond at a public hearing prior to the vote.

Local resident John Howe asked why the board would go for a bond vote outside the “usual time for educational issues.”

He added that it is difficult to accept what he called the board’s “pet project” now. Howe called it “a big mistake” when the school is failing many students in academic programs.

Board Chairman David Rath responded, saying that if the bond is approved by voters, the work on the fields has to be done at a time when students are not in school and fields are not being used—summer.

As for the issue of some lower social economic students not meeting standards, Rath said “we (the board) are facing that issue all the time.”

He cited the co-curricular programs as occupying the students after school.

“Studies show that students in co-curricular activities do better than students who are not,” Rath said.

He pointed to the recent upgrade of the CVU auditorium as an example of improvements that were important in adding to students’ experiences.

“It added to the variety of co-curricular activities,” Rath said. “It is incredible what it provides for kids.”

He also said the turf fields would not only be an improvement for the athletic teams, but also for the fitness programs for which all students have a graduation requirement.

“The fields look good to me,” Howe said of his recent inspection.

“We had a very dry fall,” Rath replied. “We can’t show you what it was like last fall,” which was more rainy.

Charles Shelley, a member of the turf field fundraising committee, said during a presentation that in the past, when conditions were wet, teams had to practice in the parking lots. Several home games had to be switched to opponents’ fields.

It was pointed out that the boys soccer team, which had a Division 1 semifinal game scheduled for its home field Tuesday afternoon, had its Monday practice in Shelburne to preserve the game field.

Board member Jonathan Milne said the athletic fields have been a problem for four or five years. As for the disadvantaged kids, Milne added, “I think about (them) every time we come together.”

As Shelley noted, $1.5 million would also be the cost of repairing the grass fields over 10 years, which would require two fields being out of play for two years at a time while being worked on.

Committee co-chairwoman Amy DuBrul said that just “3 percent of the school budget goes for extra-curricula activities, including athletics.”

In an email to the Observer, athletic director Kevin Riell said that of the 1,279 students at CVU, some 900 are involved in athletics, which includes five club sports along with the traditional varsity, junior varsity and freshman teams.

Riell added that recent studies show a “distinct correlation with learning and an emotional involvement” in athletics or other extra-curricula activities.

“Athletics in particular promote emotion,” he said.

If the bond is approved, it will be supplemented by funds raised by the Turf Fields Committee. The total cost for two turf fields, plus lights and bleachers at one field, is 2.6 million.

Turf Committee co-chairwoman Kelly Austin said $270,000 has been raised to date. She added that several grant applications are in the works and that, should the bond be approved by voters, other grants will be possible.

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