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April 02, 2013

Burlington School Board Gives a Lesson in How to Elect a Leader

079Unlike a certain other 14-member Burlington policymaking panel, the city's school board had no trouble electing a chair in a vote held Tuesday night. Alan Matson, an independent financial consultant, unseated incumbent chair Keith Pillsbury in a 9-5 vote. This photo shows him in the chair's seat, next to superintendent Jeanne Collins.

There was none of the drama that had accompanied the city council's failure the previous night to agree on a leader. The school board session, held in the cafeteria of Burlington High School, drew a 25-member audience — hardly the standing-room-only crowd that turned out Monday evening to witness the council's 7-7 deadlocked presidential vote. The whole process of choosing a school board chair lasted about 15 minutes.

In remarks prior to the vote, Matson cited his work as head of two board committees — policy and finance — and promised to promote greater efficiency in the body's deliberations. Noting that school board candidates often run unopposed, Matson said he would strive to ensure "the time commitment is not so daunting that we put people off from running or from playing an active role on the board." He also said he would focus on improving communications with schools superintendent Jeanne Collins and on developing a long-term financial plan for the district.

Pillsbury, a retired teacher first elected to the Burlington board in 1987, told his colleagues he would seek "more rigorous evaluation and accountability of all employees" if he were chosen for a second two-year term as chair. Pillsbury added that he had sought to develop relationships with several groups involved with the schools, including "our budget critics."

Matson had nothing negative to say — or even imply — about Pillsbury's performance. But the longtime member was weakened politically when he barely survived a Town Meeting Day challenge for his Ward 1 school board seat by write-in candidate Kyle Dodson. Pillsbury also presided over the board during a period marked by diversity-related tensions — the school system has recently experienced major changes in the racial make-up of its student body.

Matson was gracious in victory. Referring to the "challenges" of the past year, he said of Pillsbury, "I have held him in admiration."

All the board members, as well as several district staffers in attendance, rose from their seats as they applauded Pillsbury's service to the schools.

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