Elizabeth Fitzgerald

Elizabeth Fitzgerald: 2018 School Board Candidate Forum

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Thursday February 22, 2018

Elizabeth Fitzgerald

3 year term

Education: BS University of Vermont; MS Cornell University

Occupation: Retired senior healthcare executive with extensive general management and budget experience

Years as SB resident: 14

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

I have served on the school board for twelve years and bring both breadth and depth of experience to the role, having helped steward the district through a variety of complex issues during that time. I believe I have provided a consistent focus on quality of education while seeking long-term sustainability at the state and local level. I also serve on the Vermont Education Health Initiative board, which serves employers and employees in school districts by making available a range of cost-effective, affordable and high-quality benefit plans. Past professional experience includes board roles on Corporate Diversity and Mentoring councils.

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

First and foremost, the role of the board is to act as trustee for the community to oversee public education. District priorities are not determined by individual board members, but the board does establish an annual work calendar, which we use to focus on monitoring district policies. We ensure that the administration provides evidence that supports its efforts to provide a high quality education for each student, give the public a good return on its investment and operate the system efficiently, effectively, and ethically. If re-elected, I plan to continue to provide this oversight.

Another priority, consistent with the district’s Master Planning and Visioning and capital stewardship efforts, will be to increase the interest and appetite to engage in longer-term planning and forecasting. We can also improve efficiency and transparency of year-over-year budget development, contracting, and even state guidance on variables that drive taxes, such as yield and equalized pupils.

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 do support the proposed budget, which represents an estimated tax rate increase of under 2%. I also support the bond, which reflects a more accurate view of the useful life of certain depreciable assets. In many ways, the district has overstated its annual operating expenses in the past by including capital projects in the budget. As our facilities have aged and we deferred stewardship projects, we can now “unburden” the operating budget without much material impact on debt service.

The legislature is currently considering a shift to an education funding formula that combines reduced property taxes and a tax increase based on adjusted gross income. Though it is too soon to weigh in on specifics, I do support a move toward a system that is more transparent, as this proposal purports to be.

The board has communicated to the South Burlington legislature its concerns over the pace, scope, and timing of this proposed change. It is possible that this change will be effective July 2018 and would impact the budget being presented to voters on March 6. I would advocate for a more planful roll out of any changes to the funding system.

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

The Master Planning and Visioning process is the foundation for any future recommendations for consolidation or redistricting. The administration has received clear direction from the board in four key areas: 1) necessary upgrades at the high school and middle school; 2) a system to monitor issues that may impact the district’s ability to maintain/improve the quality of PreK-12 public education; 3) a contingency plan should Chamberlin need to be closed; and 4) a revitalized strategic plan with an analysis of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. New developments might be assigned to a different elementary school as capacity limits are reached.

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

The board established a policy that every person has a right to expect a timely and appropriate response to questions and concerns regarding the district. Concerns of a personal nature or which involve school operations should first be directed to a staff member or building administrator. There is a standing agenda item at the start of each board meeting for ”Comments from the public regarding items not on the agenda.” The board could give any of a range of responses, which are detailed on each agenda to better clarify expectations. Feedback on warned items is always solicited at meetings after board discussion. Emails and phone numbers for board members are publicly available. Community input is welcome at any time.

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)

Vermont law governs the process used by the school board and any employee group represented in collective bargaining. After having participated in many negotiation cycles with the SBEA, I believe there are opportunities to improve the process. Many of these recommendations have already been communicated by the school board to our representatives in Montpelier, and the legislature is currently considering changes to the bargaining process and statewide healthcare benefits. More detail is available on the district website.

Eighty percent of schools’ budgets are made up of salaries and benefits. Consistent with my thoughts on long-term planning, I would include longer terms on negotiated contracts as part of improving predictability for boards, taxpayers and employees. At the local level, I believe that public disclosure by both the board and the union of initial proposals and the status of offers at the end of each negotiating session would improve transparency and efficiency. Simple changes to the process can expedite settlements, such as starting earlier before a contract expires, working over the summer, and identifying consultants who could be needed later. Both the union and the board share the goal of uninterrupted service to our students.

7.Closing statement. (100 words)

I believe my record of service will continue to benefit the South Burlington community as the landscape of public education in Vermont changes. I have always emphasized balancing cost management with the quality of education our citizens support, and my re-election will provide needed continuity to the important work of long-term planning.

Access to a solid education is the foundation for realizing the expectations we hold for our students: academic proficiency, personal development, good citizenship, and nurturing a disposition for lifelong learning.