Residents watch Rutland mayor’s choice to fill school board vacancy

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The crowd at a Rutland football game in 2021. It was a "frat boy"-themed night for the audience, and the banner, "Fridays are for the Raiders," was a variation on the popular fraternity slogan, “Fridays are for the boys.” Photo by Riley Norton

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The crowd at a 2021 Rutland football game. File photo by Riley Norton

After two years in which the school’s mascot dominated Rutland School Board discussions, the town’s mayor said he wants to appoint a commissioner who will balance the board, call for greater student accountability and stand up for himself. would focus on strengthening local education.

At a town hall meeting last week, Mayor David Allaire said he was leaning toward appointing recent school board nominee Bob Pearo Jr. to fill a vacancy left by the resignation of Commissioner Brittany Cavacas.

The pushback began even before Allaire announced Cavacas’ resignation and preference for Pearo at a May 16 council of aldermen meeting.

Before Allaire spoke that evening, some community members took to the podium to defend Marisa Kiefaber, a teacher who placed fifth in the race for the four open seats on the board in March. . They pointed out that Kiefaber had only lost five votes and that his selection would maintain the democratic process.

Pearo, a local businessman, placed sixth in the race. The pair ran under opposing political slates, with Pearo’s group supporting Rutland High School’s “Raiders” mascot after it was briefly changed to “Ravens.”

Kiefaber appeared at the aldermen’s meeting, saying she had told Allaire of her interest in the vacant post of school trustee. “I encourage Mayor Allaire to follow the voters and nominate me,” she said.

Cavacas resigned in a May 11 letter that Allaire read at the meeting, citing work and health reasons.

Pearo’s supporters, meanwhile, point to the fact that his children attended schools in Rutland City, saying he understands the challenges facing the district and is ready to step up.

On Monday, Allaire said he plans to take all the time allowed by law before submitting his final choice to the school board. He has until Wednesday — 14 days after Cavacas resigned — to make up his mind.

“I actually left my options open,” the mayor said in an interview Monday, “and I’m going to make that announcement on Wednesday afternoon.”

Allaire said he is looking for a nominee who will bring stability and balance to the 11-person board, following the heated debate over the school’s mascot. In October 2020, the board voted to retire the Raiders moniker after a group of students, staff and alumni raised concerns about racism in the mascot’s background.

Allaire said he wants someone who will help move Rutland’s public school system forward by providing educators and students with the necessary support and oversight.

“The past two years have been very troubling and disruptive at the school board,” he said. “There have been a number of occasions of disputes where it does not appear that the business of the school board has been conducted.”

Allaire said he also wants to find someone who will hold students accountable when they misbehave, showing that their actions have consequences.

The school board will officially receive Allaire’s appointment at its next regular meeting, which is scheduled for June 14. The commissioners will then vote on the nominee at the next meeting in August, according to council chair Alison Notte.

Council can reject Allaire’s nominee by a supermajority vote of seven commissioners, according to Rutland City’s charter. In this case, the mayor could submit another name as part of the same process.

If the second candidate is again rejected, the school board makes the appointment, without needing the mayor’s consent.

Notte said that historically the mayor receives a recommendation from the superintendent and the council chair. But when she and Superintendent Bill Olsen contacted Allaire with their recommendation for Cavacas’s replacement, Notte said they learned the mayor “plans to appoint someone different, regardless of recommendations from district leaders. “.

Olsen said the school district‘s priorities include helping students recover from the disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Administrators are also continuously working on a clear and viable curriculum, improving teaching methods and refining the assessment of student progress, he said.

Olsen said he understands discussions about school mascots are complicated and can take time. During that time, he said the school board provided the district with leadership and support.

The council tabled further discussion of Rutland’s mascot until this summer, after the Legislature passed a related bill earlier this month.

Section 139 is intended to ban racist and offensive school mascots. He would ask the Vermont Agency of Education to create a state policy for school branding, including mascots, logos and sports teams, by August. The bill awaits action from Governor Phil Scott.

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