Last night’s school board meeting was supposed to be about passing a FY19 budget that avoided direct instructional cuts to our children, particularly those needing the most support. We started out hearing more public comment about the need to keep interventionists in our elementary schools because we need to continue to work on closing the achievement gap, one of the district’s top strategic goals. Important discussion ensued about the the very new, and clearly formative, plan for interventionists that was revealed at Monday night’s board meeting, one that has not even been discussed with school district principals yet. Ultimately, it was determined that no cuts should be made to interventionists or three elementary school teacher positions (athletics at BHS had been added back in Monday night), yet the total dollars don’t add up to the original proposed cuts for these nine positions, but that’s for another post. In the end, the board approved a budget with a per pupil spend of $15,111.81, which represents less than 1% growth for our district, or approximately .8% increase in spending. The remaining tax increase of 7.19% comes from actions taken by Montpelier that are outside our control, for a total tax increase of 7.99%. A final budget number will be out later.
This is important news. We have a budget to pass and lots of work to do explaining why Burlington taxpayers are facing a nearly 8% property tax increase while emphasizing that we have to pass this budget to support our schools. We need this money to support our students, to enhance equity and diversity in our staff and training to match our diverse student population, to increase professional development for teachers, to add social worker support at the middle school level, and much more. If we weren’t facing the financial pressures from Montpelier think of how much more we could be doing that we NEED to do.
Unfortunately, the news today isn’t about the budget. The news is about board chair Mark Porter’s abuse of power, bullying of another school board member, and actions unbecoming to an elected official. His words and actions spoke volumes about not only himself, but the current board and structure. His divisive statement last night was an attempt to further cement the divide between school board and superintendent against those dedicated professionals working in our district. Everyone was under attack, from teachers to paraeducators, spouses of those working in the district, residents who are teachers working outside the district, parents with children in the district, and the families of Burlington’s children who want a voice in the school district. No one was immune. Practically everyone was labeled as the enemy. In fact, Porter said, “We must silence and overcome these voices.” Last time I checked, we were still living in a democracy where voices, discussion, and opinions were not only allowed under the first amendment but welcomed, apparently not by the current school board. The role of the school board is to represent the taxpayers, parents of children in the district, employees of the district, and to hear their concerns, address them, communicate with them, not shut them down and only hear what they want to hear or respond to what they want to respond to.
I chose to speak out against Mark Porter last night because we have to call out bullying when we see it. My work in school and campus safety doesn’t allow me to sit by and allow anyone to be a target – not Jeff Wick, not teachers or paras, not students of color, LGBTQ students, ANYONE. I don’t care who you are. A bully is a bully. I’ve been in my own daughter’s classroom to talk about bullying, to talk about how everyone can be a change maker and stop bullying. We need to exemplify that behavior every day and practice bystander intervention. I felt I did that last night. I would do it again. Elected officials have no business acting or speaking the way Mark Porter did last night.
We need to stand up for what’s right and decent in our society and our community. We need to come together and strengthen our school district not divide it. We do that by embracing each other and having awkward and difficult discussions around race, privilege, sexual harassment and assault, bullying, disabilities, and many other tough topics. Let’s not adopt the national narrative of building walls against each other. We are so much better than that.