Two Candidates Vie for Burlington School Board Seat | Off Message

Two Candidates Vie for Burlington School Board Seat


Helen Hossley - COURTESY
  • Courtesy
  • Helen Hossley
Expect two new faces on the Burlington School Board — and possibly three — after the March 7 election.

Two newcomers, Jeff Wick and Ryan McLaren, are stepping up without opposition to fill seats in the South and Central districts, respectively.

Incumbents Miriam Stoll and Brian Cina previously held those seats and are not running for reelection. 

In the only race for a slot on the 12-member board, incumbent Mark Barlow faces a challenge from Helen Hossley in the North District, which encompasses the area commonly known as Burlington's New North End. Her goal is to strengthen city schools.

"Burlington's such a wonderful city and I think we deserve the absolute best schools that we can afford," Hossley said in an interview with Seven Days. "And I don't think the board has done a particularly good job at that."

Barlow, meanwhile, is eager for a second term on the board.

In his first term, Barlow pushed unsuccessfully for the legislature to change the state education funding system in a way that would make the formula work better for Burlington.

Specifically, Barlow testified in support of a proposal that would have allowed Burlington to resume using a portion of local payments in lieu of taxes (PILOT) funds for local schools. The Vermont Education Agency prohibited this use of PILOT dollars, which are contributions from tax-exempt property owners, beginning in fiscal year 2016.
Mark Barlow - COURTESY
  • Courtesy
  • Mark Barlow
Although Barlow's lobbying efforts were unsuccessful, he says that if reelected, he would continue to weigh in on state policy that affects education.

"We really need to be doing legislative advocacy," said Barlow, a 54-year-old small business owner.

He sees himself as a collaborative influence on the board.

"I tend to be sort of pragmatic and not ideological about decisions," Barlow said. "I try to look at them sort of in a 360-degree way. I try to do what's best for the community."

Hossley, 54, is a school board watchdog. She has filed at least three public records requests with the district in the last year seeking information about personnel contracts and school finances.

Transparency and communication would be her hallmarks if elected, Hossley said. She would not just expect residents to rely on "canned responses from the board chair," Hossley said.

"I would absolutely be an advocate for basically keeping in communication with my constituents," Hossley said.

She lives on Ethan Allen Parkway and works as the education director for the Vermont Association of Realtors. Hossley earned a bachelor's degree from the Rochester Institute of Technology in 1984.

Her two daughters, now in college, attended city schools and graduated from Burlington High School in 2015 and 2016.

Barlow lives on Holly Lane. As a youngster, he attended the same schools his children now attend in the North End — Hunt Middle School and Burlington High School. Barlow graduated from BHS in 1980 and the University of Vermont in 1986.

At the polls March 7, voters will face a proposed $85.5 million budget that would increase property taxes about 5.25 percent. They will also be asked to decide on a $19 million school improvement bond.

Hossley said she's unsure how she'll vote on the two questions. School officials are not providing enough detailed financial accounting on the budget, she said, and the school bond does not go far enough on needed repairs.

"Until we really understand where all the money is being spent and have transparency, it's hard to have a conversation about what we can afford, because we don't know where the money is going," Hossley said.

Barlow said he will vote yes on the budget and the bond. But Barlow said he would not want the school district to return to the double-digit tax increases that were sent to voters between 2010 and 2015.

"I think we have to consider affordability when we consider our budgets in Burlington," Barlow said.

One other seat on the board is up — but with only one candidate. That's incumbent Kathy Olwell, who wants to keep the East District seat she filled last fall after board member Kyle Dodson stepped down. He resigned to focus on his new job as CEO and president of the Greater Burlington YMCA.

Olwell is a recently retired social worker who served a stint on the board from 1995-1997. Her grown children attended Burlington public schools. She lives on North Prospect Street.

Wick is an attorney with three children,* all in the Burlington public school system. He's pushed to restore and maintain advanced math opportunities for students. He lives in the South End.

McLaren is an outreach representative in Congressman Peter Welch's (D-Vt.) Burlington office. He lives on North Avenue, and coaches boys lacrosse at Burlington High School. He previously served as an AmeriCorps VISTA member in Burlington public schools.

*A previous version of this post incorrectly stated the number of Wick's children.