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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.

March 18, 2013

Burlington Mayor Goes Back to School, Promotes Partnership for Change

Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger went back to high school today; he's making good on a campaign promise to move his office to Burlington High School for a week. This Monday through Friday, the mayor and his three-person staff will be conducting city business out of a fishbowl office belonging to BHS assistant principal Nick Molander.

Last night, the mayor tweeted a photo of his backpack as he prepared for his first day at school. 

Weinberger's schedule for the week includes riding the school bus, hosting his weekly coffee klatch in the school cafeteria and hosting a business roundtable on Wednesday in the school auditorium. A "press corps" of student reporters will reportedly be blogging about his time there, and posting updates on social media.

Is Weinberger playing hooky? Getting stuffed into a locker? Batting .400 for the school's baseball team? Get up-to-the-minute reports on his activities on Twitter, using the hashtag #miroBHS

Photo-bhsWeinberger kicked off his week in residence at BHS at a schoolwide assembly Monday morning. Hundreds of students and community members turned out to see him get his keys, ID badge and a BHS ballcap. 

But orientation wasn't the only thing on the agenda — the mayor hoped to use the gathering to highlight the Burlington-Winooski Partnership for Change, a three-year, $3-million-plus effort to remodel Burlington's and Winooski's high schools, made possible by a grant from the Nellie Mae Foundation.

On hand to celebrate the partnership were a whole host of lawmakers and local officials, including Gov. Peter Shumlin and House Speaker Shap Smith (D-Morristown), as well as representatives from Senators Leahy and Sanders' offices.

Continue reading "Burlington Mayor Goes Back to School, Promotes Partnership for Change" »

The Week Ahead: March 18-24, 2013

WeekaheadHappy Monday, news and politics geeks. We're getting to crunch time in the Statehouse, Burlington's mayor is going back to school, and Seven Days is running this year's Vermont Brew Bracket — a subject near and dear to many of your hearts, we know. Here's what you should add to the calendar.

If you have an event you want to see on next week's calendar, email Andy Bromage with details.

Monday, March 18

9:45 a.m.: As I write this, Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger is moving his office to Burlington High School. He'll be there all week to connect with students and teachers and promote something called the Partnership for Change, and we'll highlight more of the interesting events in this here post.

6 p.m.: The Burlington Board of Finance and City Council hold their Monday meetings at Burlington High School.

Continue reading "The Week Ahead: March 18-24, 2013" »

February 21, 2013

This Week's Issue: Closing a Child Porn Loophole; Deciding the Future of South Burlington

Cover022013In this week's issue of Seven Days, starring local musician Jim Rooney on the cover...

Find your copy on newsstands, at or in the App Store.

February 13, 2013

This Week's Issue: A Close Council Race in Burlington; Privacy Concerns Over License Plate Readers

021313coverGrab a bottle of your favorite spring water and sit down with this week's print or digital edition of Seven Days, featuring these news and politics stories...

Read it all on the new Seven Days app for iPad and iPhone.

February 05, 2013

Sterling College Pledges to Divest From Fossil Fuels

DivestmentThough they've been snagging the headlines, it wasn't Middlebury College or the University of Vermont that nabbed the distinction of being the first college in the state to divest from fossil fuels. That honor goes to little Sterling College in Craftsbury Common, where the board of trustees voted on February 2 to strip its $920,000 endowment of the 200 top fossil-fuel companies as identified by the environmental organization

Unlike other colleges in Vermont, where the push to divest is coming primarily from student activists, Sterling's decision originated in the board room: President Matthew Allen Derr says it was the 18-member board that hatched the plan to divest, and voted unanimously to pursue divestment.

"This was a board that was really able to speak with one mind," says Derr. He adds that the thinking at Sterling, a college devoted to a mission of environmental stewardship, was, "If not Sterling, than who would do this?" 

Sterling is the third college in the country — after Unity College in Maine and Hampshire College — to pledge to divest its endowment from major fossil-fuel companies. Those promises are in the vanguard of a growing movement calling for divestment on college campuses nationwide. To date, tallies 234 "Go Fossil Free" campaigns in the U.S., including four in Vermont at Middlebury, UVM, Green Mountain College and Goddard College.

Continue reading "Sterling College Pledges to Divest From Fossil Fuels" »

January 30, 2013

In Memoriam: Dan Balón, Champion of Racial Diversity and Cultural Awareness


Daniello "Dan" Balón, a longtime educator and advocate for improving cultural awareness and racial sensitivity in the Burlington School District, died suddenly Tuesday morning from a heart attack. Balón, 42, leaves behind his wife and two daughters.

"This was completely unexpected," said Amy Mellencamp, Burlington High School principal, who has worked with Balón for the last four years. "Over the years, I have appreciated Dan's very deep commitment and passion for the opportunities each one of us should have in life... No one could ever doubt the commitment he had for young people."

Balón, a Filipino American, worked as director of diversity, education and engagmenet for the Burlington School District. His job involved recruiting and retaining people of color to city school jobs and providing diversity and equity training.

He was never shy about calling out what he saw as institutional racism and bigotry in all its forms. In a November 11, 2009 cover story, "Minority Rule: Who will lead the next generation of Vermont’s racial justice activists?"  Seven Days identified Balón as an up-and-coming leader in Vermont's social justice movement. Ironically, the story was precipitated by the deaths of two longtime Burlington civil rights adocates: John Tucker and Larry McCrory.

Continue reading "In Memoriam: Dan Balón, Champion of Racial Diversity and Cultural Awareness" »

January 24, 2013

Middlebury Tiptoes into Divestment Conversation

MiddleburyEnvironmental activist Bill McKibben's latest campaign to lead colleges, foundations and churches to divest their fortunes from fossil fuel companies is catching on like wildfire. McKibben's "Do the Math" tour launched divestment campaigns on more than 200 college campuses, and two colleges and the city of Seattle have already pledged to yank their investments from companies McKibben and his group charge with environmental destruction.

But McKibben's own Middlebury College, where the Vermont writer serves as a scholar in residence, isn't rushing to jump on the bandwagon. Cautious exploration was the theme of the night on Tuesday, when Middlebury made good on its promise to broach the topic of divestment with a panel discussion about the college's $900 million endowment. The panel discussion follows a heated campus debate this fall about the topic of divestment, which students — along with McKibben, who was on Tuesday's panel — are promoting as the newest tactic in the fight against climate change. At Middlebury, students are also targeting arms manufacturers in their divestment campaign.

According to Alice Handy, the founder and president of Investure, the company that manages Middlebury's endowment, those funds actually make up just a very small portion of the school's $900 million endowment. College president Ron Liebowitz announced in December that roughly 3.6 percent of the endowment — around $32 million — is tied up in fossil fuel companies. Handy further clarified on Tuesday that less than 1 percent of the endowment is invested in arms manufacturing companies, and that slightly more than 1 percent is invested in the 200 fossil fuel companies McKibben's group is targeting with their national divestment campaign.

Continue reading "Middlebury Tiptoes into Divestment Conversation" »

December 04, 2012

Middlebury College Takes First Step Toward Possible Divestment From Big Oil

DivestmentConsider it a good sign for the growing movement for divestment from fossil fuels: Middlebury College president Ronald Liebowitz announced today that the college is initiating a "formal process" to investigate divestment.

In an email to students, faculty and staff, Liebowitz also revealed that approximately 3.6 percent of the college's $900 million endowment — that is, roughly $32 million dollars — is invested in fossil fuel companies. That marks the first time the college has disclosed how much of is endowment is tied up in the industry.

While the announcement isn't, by any means, a firm commitment to divest, the email sparked encouragement among students on campus campaigning for divestment. The divestment movement is spreading to college campuses across the country as climate activist and Vermont resident Bill McKibben headlines a bus tour to encourage schools, churches and foundations to strip their endowment funds of investments in the 200 top fossil fuel companies. McKibben told Seven Days last month that while divestment won't financially cripple the powerful industry, it could represent an "inherently moral call, saying if it’s wrong to wreck the climate, it’s wrong to profit from that wreckage."

McKibben, who also serves as a scholar-in-residence at Middlebury College, responded to Liebowitz's email on Tuesday with a statement through his environmental group "President Liebowitz used just the right tone and took precisely the right step," McKibben's statement read. "It won't be easy to divest, but I have no doubt that Middlebury — home of the first environmental studies dept in the nation — will do the right thing in the right way. It makes me proud to be a Panther." 

Continue reading "Middlebury College Takes First Step Toward Possible Divestment From Big Oil" »

October 22, 2012

Green Mountain Coffee's Stiller Gifts $10 Million to Champlain College

Finney and StillerThere was no giant check, but Champlain College announced the largest single donation in the school's 134-year history on Monday.

Green Mountain Coffee Roasters founder Robert Stiller, through his Stiller Family Foundation, is sinking a cool $10 million into Champlain's business school, which will be renamed the Robert P. Stiller School of Business.

Stiller (pictured with Champlain President David Finney) wasn't there to announce the contribution in the packed lobby of the S.D. Ireland Family Center for Global Business and Technology. But he apparently will be on campus November 30 for a "major event" celebrating his largesse, Finney told reporters.

Continue reading "Green Mountain Coffee's Stiller Gifts $10 Million to Champlain College" »

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