Bridget Burkhardt

Bridget Burkhardt: 2018 School Board Candidate Forum

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Thursday February 22, 2018

Bridget Burkhardt

2 year term

Education: BA from Brown University in Business Economics and Russian Language and Literature (1995); MBA from Harvard Business School (2000)

Occupation: Currently taking a break from a finance career to raise two little boys

Years as SB resident: 7 years

1. What skills and experiences uniquely qualify you for a position on the South Burlington School Board? (100 words)

My background in finance, particularly mission-driven finance, has helped me to ask the right questions about financial matters during my two years on the board. Navigating the disparate demands of different types of investors while designing complex transactions to fund mission-driven organizations like microfinance institutions prepared me to balance the sometimes competing needs of different stakeholders in our community as we tackle complicated issues at the district. A high-quality public education set the stage for my life’s adventures. I am highly motivated to provide the same range of opportunities for my children and all the children of South Burlington.

2. What is your top priority for the district if elected? What steps must be taken for this to be accomplished? (150 words)

All district work should be organized around accomplishing the Ends – disposition for life-long learning, academic proficiency, personal development, and citizenship – in order to prepare students for their next steps in life. To ensure that resources are allocated properly and that all of our work is providing results, we must understand if we are achieving the Ends and if not, where we are deficient. We have some data in this regard, but we are still working toward a comprehensive Ends monitoring system. Hiring the right person to replace the retiring director of learning is the first step in finishing this work, since that person is responsible for developing the system and reporting on the district’s progress. Once that person is in place the board must communicate its expectations about Ends monitoring and work closely with the person to make sure a great system is implemented.

3. Do you support the proposed budget? Do you support the proposed capital improvement bond? What are your ideas in regard to managing future funding and spending for education on both the state and local level? (200 words)

I fully support the proposed budget and bond. The budget maintains programming while lowering spending per equalized pupil by 2.75% and limiting the estimated increase in the residential property tax rate to 1.96% in a year when neighboring districts are projecting much higher increases. The bond represents good financial management on the part of the district. It provides long-term funding for carefully considered, long-lived capital improvements while preventing the larger tax increase that would be necessary if the district funded the improvements through the operating budget this year.

At the state level, we need a multi-year funding solution that provides more clarity and stability for school districts as they plan their budgets. The state currently provides three key factors in determining the tax rate – yield, CLA, and equalized pupils – near the end of districts’ budgeting processes each year. These numbers, particularly the yield, can change up until the end of the legislative session, well after voters have passed their budgets. This year legislators are also considering enacting significant changes to the sources of funding and the formula for calculating education-related taxes after town meeting day. I believe such major changes should not be enacted until fiscal 2020 if at all.

4.   What are your thoughts on consolidation and/or redistricting for the districts’ schools? (100 words) 

Consolidation and redistricting discussions fall under the umbrella of the broader, ongoing Master Planning and Visioning process. I am working with administration to develop a “threshold analysis” tool to regularly report key factors (such as enrollment levels, noise issues, etc.) related to the elementary schools that might cause the discussion of consolidation or redistricting to become more urgent. Unless this process generates significant new information that requires us to consider either of those options in the short term, the board will be more focused on addressing facilities needs at the middle and high schools over the next couple of years.

5. How do you think the board should receive and act upon student, parent, and/or community input? (150 words)

Input from students, parents, teachers, staff, and community is important for the board’s work. The volunteers on the board have limited time to monitor multiple channels of communication, so the board should and does receive input primarily through its public meetings, email, phone calls, and input relayed by administrators. When additional input is needed, the board organizes dedicated community meetings or advisory groups like the Citizens’ Budget Advisory Group.

The board considers input received, other information it has collected, and its own knowledge, experience, and analysis, as it makes decisions. The board must weigh all of this information and make timely decisions in the best interests of South Burlington’s students. Prior to joining the board I remember feeling frustration when a decision didn’t seem to reflect input that I had provided. As a result I try hard to communicate as clearly as possible the reasoning behind decisions the board makes.

6. What are your views on the processes used by the South Burlington School Board and the South Burlington Educators’ Association to negotiate employment contracts? What changes in the collective bargaining process would you support at the state or local level, if any? How will your own experience influence your work in this area?  (200 words)

The negotiations process could be improved by making changes that require starting earlier and progressing faster. Currently there is no requirement for either side to come to the table until approximately 8 months before a contract expires, which has previously not been enough time to come to an agreement. Both sides should be required to make their initial proposals public, which would encourage the sides to start closer to terms they actually hope to achieve. The parties should be required to agree upfront on the names of acceptable facilitators (factfinders and mediators) in case they are needed later in the process.

I am opposed to any legislation, particularly any ban on strikes and impositions, that would take away tools for making change from either side. I am also opposed to any legislation, including state-level teacher contracts or healthcare plans that would take away local control of negotiations. Teachers have a right to negotiate directly with their employers, the local districts. I would also oppose any requirement for binding arbitration as that process puts the resolution of negotiations in the hands of a third party who has little local knowledge and no responsibility for implementing the resulting contract.

7.Closing statement. (100 words)

After attending board meetings, joining the Citizens’ Budget Advisory Group, and providing the board with feedback, I ran for the board because I wanted to play a bigger role in making sure the district is a welcoming place where students can grow, parents and staff feel valued and supported, and the community sees its resources deployed thoughtfully and effectively. While I am still learning, I believe my skills and dedication have helped the board to navigate many difficult issues over the past two years. I hope to be able to continue to serve the community for the next two years.