South Burlington Voters Approve School Budget After Divisive Campaign

Jun 6, 2017

Voters in South Burlington approved a school budget for the coming academic year Tuesday after two earlier budgets failed. The 3,146 to 2,067 approval from voters came after a politically charged campaign.

Early Tuesday afternoon outside the polling place at South Burlington’s middle school, Paul Engels and Abby Crockers were standing in the rain holding signs with the word “yes” spelled out in big letters.

Engels, a former city councilor, said his reason for supporting the budget was simple.

"I just want to see our schools do well in South Burlington,” he said. “Just pro-schools."

Crocker’s reasoning was both personal and ideological.

“I'm a mom with two kids in the schools, and I'm really, really interested in protecting their education, and the education for kids in the schools today and kids in the schools in the future, and I know we need this budget to pass in order to do that,” she said.

In the parking lot nearby, an opponent of the budget put a giant inflatable football player wearing a Rebels jersey in the bed of a truck. A sign propped on the truck’s bumper said, “Be a Rebel, vote no.”

The city is especially divided around this vote – the third vote on the school system’s budget for the upcoming school year – because of the recent decision to change South Burlington’s mascot and team name from “Rebels” to “Wolves.”

The change came after public pressure to drop the “Rebels” name over its historical link to racism. Some voters, such as Paul Hart, voted against the budget in order to send a message.

“I think it’s totally immaterial, the entire hoopla about the name itself,” Hart said. “I don’t find anything objectionable or racist in the name.”

Hart didn’t mention anything about property taxes or education spending when asked about his vote.

Others who voted against the budget did so to send a different kind of message. James Gilmore said he voted no because teacher salaries are too high.

“I’ve felt they’ve been too high for a while,” Gilmore said, “and the teachers complain a lot, and yet have some of the highest salaries.”

Tuesday afternoon, South Burlington superintendent David Young announced that the high school's artificial turf athletic field is closed because of "racist graffiti." Young said the graffiti was reported to police and school officials have requested that the investigation include "the possibility of a hate crime having taken place."

Young said events that were previously scheduled for the field have been canceled or moved.

This post will be updated with voting results as soon as they are available.