What do the Burlington School Board Candidates think about…

Click here to access the 2015 School Board Commissioner Q&A in a .pdf version

2015 Burlington School Board Commissioner Q&A

Election Day: March 3, 2015


In an effort to increase voter education about Burlington School Board Commissioners, The Partnership for Change and Channel 17/Town Meeting TV, asked all candidates to answer four (4) questions, each in 150 words or less.  Their responses are published here, as submitted, with the permission of the candidates.

The Candidates:


Ward or District

Email Address
Mark Porter


Kat Kleman


Elizabeth Curry


Anne Judson


Arthur Vento


Susanmarie Harrington


Stephanie Seguino


Helen S. Hossley


David Kirk


Lauren Berrizbeitia


Brian Cina


Charlie Giannoni


Kyle Dodson


Mark Barlow


Scot Shumski


Miriam Stoll



Who is The Partnership for Change?

The Partnership for Change supports the Burlington and Winooski School Districts to be innovative, collaborative, and equitable learning organizations that inspire all learners to lead their communities to a dynamic and sustainable future.  Acting as a neutral body and working as convener, educator, and organizer, The Partnership for Change does not endorse candidates, and will work to support the districts to achieve this vision with whomever is elected.

Want to watch the televised candidate forums on www.cctv.org? Find your ward or district below:

Ward 2

Central District

Wards 5 & 6

Ward 4

Ward 7

North District

Ward 8

Question 1: What is your primary interest in running for the School Board and what issues are important to you?  Describe an experience that you believe qualifies you for the position.

Mark Barlow: If Burlington is to remain a desirable and livable city, then our public school system must provide high quality educations that are competitive with those offered by schools in neighboring communities.  Our school board plays an important role in ensuring this outcome.   

Vermont’s current education funding model has many taxpayers stretched to their limit, and poor district financial management and budgeting practices have eroded public confidence.  It is vital that our school board use their authority effectively and cohesively to ensure good fiscal stewardship of limited public resources while continuing to  make the investments and promoting the innovation necessary to develop schools capable of delivering high quality 21st century educations. 

In my professional life I co-founded and collaboratively manage  a successful technology business with five other team members and have experience making hard choices in tough economic times while continuing to make smart strategic investments.

Lauren Berrizbeitia: I have been intimately involved with children and youth in Burlington for the past ten years, and through them have been regularly engaged with schools. As a host family to two families who came to Vermont as refugees and a friend to many more, and as an adviser for four years to the Diversity Rocks youth group, I have a special interest in assuring a quality education for all students and a window into what entering Vermont schools is like for children and parents who did not grow up in this country. As Burlington changes to a multicultural community and our schools reflect this change, I hope to be part of making this a rich and satisfying experience for all students and faculty.

Brian Cina: I have been Chair of the Superintendent Search Committee, Board Liaison to Partnership for Change, and member of Curriculum Committee and Diversity & Equity Committee. I spent this year building relationships and learning about the complexity of the education system, the attributes of competent educational leadership, and the importance of collaboration and community-building. I have demonstrated patience, enthusiasm, adaptability, creativity, and endurance in the face of many obstacles. One specific example of a lesson learned: As chair of the search, I had to balance the demands of Board members, the input from community, the concerns of staff, and most importantly, the needs of the children that we serve. I was constantly responsive to the perspectives of others, and we modified our search process as we went along to maximize inclusivity and transparency, while maintaining its integrity and productivity. Every different perspective that we incorporated only strengthened our process.

Charlie Giannoni: I consider myself a typical member of a community looking for a way to contribute- as so many do.  I have contributed many thousands of hours during my 30 year residency in Burlington.  During college years,  I spent as many hours as an activist and organizer as I did studying/attending classes.  Afterwards, I was a 7 year participant in the Last Elm Cafe, 7 years with the Community Justice Center, and the longest serving NPA Steering Committee member in Burlington.  I could go on to list many more-COTS, CSWD, CDBG, Food Shelf, CCTV…

Schools were one segment of our community that I had not contributed to/learned from.  When it became evident that the BSD needed help in its leadership,  it was an easy decision for me to join in.  Priority- improving public trust in the BSD;  sustainable and transparent budgets that promote student outcomes;  develop equity.

Susanmarie Harrington: I’m running for the School Board because I have a deep interest in education policy and because I think it’s important to give back to the community. The School Board provides oversight and vision for the school district; it’s a primary channel for community engagement with the overall direction of the educational system. My experiences as a parent of a middle schooler, as a long-time Girl Scout leader, and as an English professor have led me to think deeply about how formal and informal schooling can nurture academic, social, and personal development. I’m a good communicator, a good listener, and a good administrator: I’m patient in thinking through complex problems. This combination of experience and disposition can be valuable on the board.

Helen Hossley: I have four main interests in running for the school board:

1. Ensure a quality education system in Burlington public schools thereby keeping our property values high

2. Ensure transparency in the board actions

3. Honor our education professionals and our students

4. Earn back the trust between the staff, the board and the administration

There are several things that make me uniquely qualified for this position.

1. I have a fundamental belief in the value of being a lifelong learner. My desire is to have a school board that supports the possibility of every person (child) realizing the power of quality education

2. Having worked with and led several non-profit boards throughout my career I bring an understanding and working knowledge of how boards should function. 

3. In addition, my years of being the president of the C.P. Smith Elementary School PTO gives me insight and first hand knowledge of the day-to-day workings within a school.  I’ve experienced the dedication of our professionals as well as witnessed their frustrations over policies created without much thought to the unintended consequences.

As a parent and a taxpayer I understand the importance of balancing the desire to have an excellent school system with the need to control spending.   I look forward to the upcoming discussion at the state level to achieve this goal.

Anne Judson: First let me say why I am not running. I am not running on a financial agenda to cut the budget (That has already happened). I’m not running to get rid of Common Core (which isn’t possible anyway because of the federal legislation). And I am not running to tell our excellent teachers how to teach.

I am running because it is my time to give back to the Burlington schools by supporting our children and teachers. How will I support them? I will listen carefully to their needs. I will call upon my past 41 years of experience in education to offer suggestions as appropriate. And I will offer a positive approach to reaching agreement on issues.

I have an undergraduate degree in Spanish and Education, a Master’s in Child Development and a doctorate in school leadership. I taught preschool and elementary school before teaching pre-service and in-service teachers at Saint Michael’s College. I understand the multitude of responsibilities teachers face in the classroom today.

Kat Kleman: I am a proud parent of a Hunt Middle Schooler who graduated from IAA last year. For me, being on the school board is a chance to help where I can and to be more involved in the district. I’ve been involved in the schools as much as I can, and I have a wide background of experiences to draw from, including teaching English at the college level for 13 years, starting my own Reiki practice, and struggling to make ends meet at a job that pays $10.10/hr. I am also a single mom and know the challenges many of our families face in terms of having time to be involved with both their children and the school community.

Question 2: Do you support the district school budget as proposed?   Can you explain the relationship between the budget and the property tax increase?   What aspects of the budget do you consider priorities and why?

Mark Barlow: I support the district budget as proposed and I am confident that the FY16 budget is based on more complete and realistic projections than the FY15 budget.  The proposed budget recognizes the need to show fiscal restraint in the wake of last years large property tax increase, and offers a pragmatic response, through targeted cuts, to this years loss of $1.4M in city PILOT (Payment In Lieu Of Taxes) revenue. 

Loss of PILOT revenue is an example of a funding change that causes local spending and property taxes to increase and it is not the only cost shift the district has had to absorb in recent years.   PILOT represents over 2% of the revenue in FY15 and had it been available we could have essentially funded the proposed FY16 budget without any tax increase.

Lauren Berrizbeitia: As a school commissioner candidate I am new to budget negotiations and planning. I know the superintendent worked hard to come up with the most efficient budget that still enables us to educate students well and the school board and I support the budget as it stands. In another year, if I am elected, I will be more knowledgeable about this process. When the budget goes up the property taxes also go up.

Brian Cina: I support the proposed budget. However, I am uncomfortable with the level of cuts. In my opinion, we passed a budget that minimizes impact on taxpayers at the expense of children. For the past decade, the District has run deficits causing taxpayers to pay more than we had approved in elections. This is not fair. We had to stop out-of-control spending. In order to restore accountability, we have set limits. Unfortunately, these limits have a major impact on programming. I hope that with competent educational leadership, we can begin to find ways to sustain high quality education without making further cuts and without raising taxes out-of-proportion with inflation rates. We need to find ways to be efficient and adaptable, while maintaining accountability and social justice. We have a long road ahead of us. For me, the budget priorities are items connected to direct service of students’ academic and social-emotional needs.

Charlie Giannoni: March 2014,  a record number of voters defeated the budget.  The June second vote (a $2 million reduction in staff/services) passed by 68 votes.  Our proposed budget for next year contains another $2 million reduction in staff/services.  Consider the shock to students/parents/teachers that that must entail.  However,  it was necessary.  The finances, bookkeeping, controls and leadership were unacceptable.

Each of these problems has been essentially corrected.  We have new leadership that continues to impress with redesign of the BSD services.  We have new financial controls that display transparency and should prevent unacceptable deficits.

I do support our budget proposal which represents a modest 1.75% increase over this current year’s austere budget. I accept that so many changes have been a shock to the BSD, but am confident that in both the short and long term-the community, students/families and yes taxpayers will be pleased.

Susanmarie Harrington: The proposed budget is a good one: it sets us up to move forward with sound financial information, and it was built by looking at district priorities. We’re in a difficult place right now: we have to find a way to address student needs while tackling the deficit and planning for increasing needs, without burdening taxpayers. The relationship between the budget and taxes is complicated: the tax rate is affected by our budget, the amount of state funds (dependent on enrollment), and the “common level of appraisal” which adjusts—for school property tax purposes—property values in line with current markets.  Every part of the budget is a priority: we should bring an educational vision to life through each thing the budget pays for, from senior administration to building maintenance. It all supports kids’ access to quality academic and co-curricular experiences.

Helen Hossley: As a private citizen, this question is asking how I am going to vote.  While I invoke my right to keep my vote private I will say that school board commissioners are ethically obligated to support the budget they put forth.

I want the budget to reflect the values and concerns of Burlington residents.  With that said I do not feel the 1.75 increase, which has been called a compromise, is helpful. I would hope the board would’ve taken a thoughtful approach to developing a responsible budget, then go out and explain the budget to the voters.  The process of deciding on a compromise behind closed doors is not transparent. A quality education system for all students is a true benefit for all our taxpayers and helps keep the city of Burlington vital and vibrant. People and businesses move to a city because of the quality of the schools.

Anne Judson: Yes, I support the budget of a 1.75 increase. The relationship between the budget and the property tax is tricky.  Act 68 pays for all district’s education spending. Once that amount has been identified, things such as state categorical grant programs are subtracted from the education spending. The difference is then paid for through property tax.

I believe the school budget priority goes to placing the money as close the students’ needs as possible. For example, if we have a large group of students who enter school without number and letter sense, we need to provide them with instructional support to develop number and letter sense. That may mean more instructional assistants or it may mean an additional Kindergarten teacher.

Kat Kleman: In practical terms, I support the budget. However, I did vote against it because I feel we started too low, even at the originally proposed 2% budget. Superintendent Smith and Finance Director Lavery have done a wonderful job looking for savings and building more efficient systems, and there is a strong need to be financially responsible and transparent, which I feel that this budget represents. However, I am still very concerned with some of the proposed cuts, including the loss of social workers. It is my hope that, as we continue to gain insight into past budgeting practices, many of these cuts will become unnecessary.

Question 3: Do you believe that the Burlington School District’s emphasis on cultural diversity and equity should continue to be a priority? What more could the School District be doing to achieve an equitable and culturally competent school community?

Mark Barlow: Our district mission is to ensure that all students achieve their highest intellectual and personal potential  so trying to eliminate disparities in achievement  identified in particular demographic groups should be a priority. Schools are at the center of a solution but it shouldn’t fall to our schools exclusively to solve. To be successful, our greater community needs to share this district priority. 

As noted in the BSD Equity and Inclusion Report recommendations, there is a need for outreach to increase parental engagement and school involvement for at-risk groups, and there are opportunities to use programs outside of school and after school, to generate additional positive impact on achievement.  There should be additional district focus on forging community and governmental partnerships to share the financial and human resources necessary to address this complex societal issue.

Lauren Berrizbeitia: This is a new Vermont law effective fiscal year 2016 and all schools in Vermont will be making this change. School commissioners should thoroughly understand what these changes will mean both to students and faculty and will be supervising the superintendent as we implement these changes. I have a special interest in how we will review and analyze the outcomes of this change, which I believe will be the responsibility of the curriculum committee on the board.

Brian Cina: Cultural diversity is not a priority or a choice in Burlington. It is REALITY. As our community, staff, and students become increasingly diverse, we must enhance our collective cultural competency. We must understand our own biases, learn skills to work through cultural differences, cultivate self-reflection, and embrace self improvement. When we learn to recognize our own limitations and stay open to what we have to learn from others, we optimize our ability to constructively participate in a democratic and truly free society. There are great strengths in every culture. If we develop an educational system grounded in cultural competency and inclusivity, we lay the foundation for a future that incorporates the best of all worlds. Our District must continue professional development, policies, and practices that build cultural competency and ensure equity. We still have a long way to go. Areas of focus: restorative justice, retention of staff, improve school climate.

Charlie Giannoni: The BSD population in Burlington is currently described as having 30% non-white students and 10% non-white teachers and staff.  Most descriptions of strong communities would insist that as many people as possible benefit from all aspects of society.  Schools that celebrate cultural diversity and promote equity are an essential component of any community that would be considered strong and desirable.

I admire the celebration of cultural diversity that I see every time I enter a BSD building. True equity can never be attained.  It can be prioritized but will always remain a goal. A kindergarten class has 18 students. There are two without any English or Math.  How will that teacher provide an equitable classroom experience?  Those two students get extra help outside of class but by definition it can not be an equitable situation. Equity is often expensive but no community can be strong without striving for it.

Susanmarie Harrington: Yes: our cultural diversity is an enormous community asset; it’s our collective responsibility to pursue equity and inclusion. *All* students benefit from growing up in a culturally diverse and equitable community. Parts of the strategic plan focus on conversation and awareness; we can move from there to action. We can create inclusive curriculum, assignments, and activities that truly represent our community. All students/staff—no matter their family structure, race, ethnicity, religion, physical abilities or socioeconomic position, no matter their cultural or language background, no matter their gender, gender identity, or sexuality—should see themselves and their experiences reflected in school.  At school I hear the message “we’re all the same inside.”  We need to listen for differences, too. We need to think about inclusion beyond the curriculum—how do policies, formal and informal routines, and interactions in less regulated places like learning centers, staff lounges, and playgrounds truly welcome everyone?

Helen Hossley: I support the mission statement of the Burlington School district which is to ensure that all students achieve their highest intellectual and personal potential and are prepared to contribute as global citizens.

Cultural diversity and equity are one piece of the pie.  We need to support all of our students to make sure that they all achieve their highest potential. We need to make sure our buildings are handicap accessible.  We need to make sure that our buildings have the space that supports best teaching/learning practices and we need to ensure that services are available for all our students, parents, guardians and staff.

Anne Judson: Yes, of course. With 300 to 330 New Americans arriving each year, emphasis on cultural diversity is a must. The School District is working hard to accommodate all students. The high school has an after school homework club, Boys and Girls club partners with the Integrated Arts Academy where children get homework help, and the district has a diversity coordinator. We are moving in the right direction. 

When hiring new teachers, I recommend schools identify those applicants whose teacher preparation programs have integrated ELL and culturally competent components in their curriculum.

Kat Kleman: Absolutely. We are a diverse community, with a variety of different needs and different learning strategies. I believe we need more dialogue on cultural competency, not just training for educators and administrators, but on a community level. The most important part of the cultural bias training I’ve received has been learning to look at myself and my own inherent biases (we all have them!) in order to be more aware of the effects my words and behavior have on others. We need to fund diversity initiatives and also find ways to incorporate diversity education in small ways that don’t need extensive funding. A good start would be to learn to listen to each other’s stories.

Question 4: The Burlington School District, with support from the Partnership for Change, is on a path towards implementing a student centered approach focused on personalized and proficiency-based learning.  What is the role of a school board commissioner in understanding and supporting the shift to a student-centered learning environment?

Mark Barlow: School commissioners should support the Partnership For Change by working to ensure continued grant funding beyond this year.  Act 77 is a new state mandate for personalized student centered learning in secondary schools and it comes with little funding ($1M statewide).  Burlington is extremely fortunate to have the PFC to help our district through this transition.  Without grants from the Nellie Mae Education Foundation and Tarrant Foundation, we would have to increase local spending or make deeper cuts to implement parts of the new mandate currently being covered by PFC funding.

School commissioners should also recognize the financial leverage and benefit of the PFC’s work.   Personalized Learning Plans utilizing community partners and technology may be the best and possibly only options for preserving some of the rich and important non-core subject offerings at risk of being cut in today’s tight budget environment, and for creating new learning opportunities.

Lauren Berrizbeitia: This is a new Vermont law effective fiscal year 2016 and all schools in Vermont will be making this change. School commissioners should thoroughly understand what these changes will mean both to students and faculty and will be supervising the superintendent as we implement these changes. I have a special interest in how we will review and analyze the outcomes of this change, which I believe will be the responsibility of the curriculum committee on the board.

Brian Cina: In order to understand and support the shift to a truly student-centered learning environment, the School Board must be willing to question the entire hierarchy of the educational system. In the past, students were not viewed as equals to adults and were treated as products moving through an assembly line. As we shift to new ways of providing education, we recognize that personalized and proficiency-based learning treats students as having value as individuals, each bringing their own unique strengths and needs to the learning environment. Students deserve individualized attention so that they can truly achieve and grow to their fullest potential. The role of the School Commissioner is to stay informed of the philosophy and practices, and to modify policies so that the system supports a student-centered approach. It is our duty to make sure that policy empowers students, staff, and the community so that the next generations can prosper.

Charlie Giannoni:  Student centered learning is a somewhat new approach that will be increasingly utilized. Personalized Learning Plans for students are an inexpensive technique to advance that philosophy.  Plans can be as simple/complicated as students and/or parents wish it to be.  Little assistance from the BSD is necessary although advisable. Proficiency-based learning, while a great new approach, is much more complicated and expensive.  It requires teachers that have used a teaching style and lesson plan for 1-41 years, to (possibly dramatically) change.  Where in the next Teachers Contract will that be addressed? Last September I asked 12 teachers during school tours, what they thought of P-BL.  Six had no idea what I was talking about and six cautiously said that they already used it- when they clearly were not.  The pilot program was great but any thought of implementing it (and Advisory) to any great degree is premature.

Susanmarie Harrington: Education shouldn’t be a cookie cutter system, where we assume all students learn the same way and at the same speed. Universities have been increasingly moving toward student-centered, outcome-based learning environments, because it works. The job of school commissioners is to articulate the long-term vision for the school system and to work to provide the resources necessary for that vision to succeed. As an advocate of student-centered learning, both in my own teaching and in K-12, I’m excited about the prospects of personalized learning plans. The board’s role is to engage the community and set out direction for the district, and to gauge whether the district is accomplishing the vision.  The board sets parameters; school administrators implement curriculum and programs; teachers lead the day-to-day work, connecting with students.

Helen Hossley: First of all, this is an unfunded state mandate that Vermont schools develop personal proficiency based learning plans for all our students. My job as a board member is to support the students, parents, guardians and staff as we implement this new mandate.

Anne Judson: The board’s first role is to read up on and understand what student-centered and proficiency-based learning are.  The second role is to support teachers in this form of learning. Based on Act 77, Vermont Schools must provide students with opportunities and flexible ways to demonstrate what they have learned.

Proficiency based learning is the foundation of this idea. This is where students move ahead after demonstrating they have learned the necessary skills to move to the next level. If I don’t understand addition, for example, I am not ready to move on to multiplication. I practiced student-centered learning in my graduate classes.  If a student’s annotated references, for example, were not substantial enough to create an outline for a research paper, I worked with the student to get there.  Once there, they took the next step. It wasn’t okay for me to say, “You should have learned this last year.” I saw my responsibility as a teacher to take the student from they were to the next step.

Kat Kleman: I believe all school commissioners need to familiarize themselves with some of the basic best practices in education. We are fortunate to have school leaders who are willing to educate us and to answer questions, but, of course, the best way to learn is to see the schools in action, whether through visiting during the school day or attending evening performances or just checking out the websites.  As for student-centered learning, I fully support the work toward personalized, proficiency-based learning. School should be fun, and it is never fun to be so far behind in a class that you can’t catch up, or to sit for hours listening to lectures about a subject that does not resonate with you or your career and life plans. If students hate school or a class, they’re not learning, no matter how good their grades are. That said, I also believe any class can be made relevant by finding the hook for individual students–that one point that makes them think twice about a question. And the more involved our students can be in their own learning and their own discoveries of who they are, the more we all grow and learn as a community.

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