Outspoken Burlington school board chair Mark Porter has officially stepped down from the leadership role but will remain on the board until his term is up in April.
Porter made his decision partly in response to criticism over his late-night remarks about alleged racial bias and potential conflicts of interest at a recent school board meeting, he told Seven Days on Monday.
"I'm obviously not impartial, which is really something that the board chair has to be, because you have to represent 11 other people," Porter said. He added: "I just felt it best to step back and be fair and let everybody else have their say also." But Porter said he will continue to express his opinions. "I don’t want to be quiet anymore," he said.
Porter appeared frustrated as he delivered a strongly worded monologue about various issues at the end of a January 23 school board meeting.
He blasted fellow board member Jeff Wick for allegedly questioning diversity hiring goals in a way that showed racial bias during a private conversation the two of them had last year. Wick strongly denied the allegation and said the remarks were slanderous payback for other differences between the two men.
Porter also pointed to school board candidates who are current and former members of the Vermont-NEA teachers union and suggested they could have conflicts of interest.
Afterward, the board released a statement saying it was not in a position to adjudicate remarks made in a private conversation.
The board also sought legal advice about whether Porter's remarks were in some way out of bounds. The board is scheduled to discuss the legal opinion during an executive session Tuesday evening. Superintendent Yaw Obeng would not release the opinion Monday. Seven Days filed a public records request for the document.
Porter said he will continue to attend meetings until his term is up. He said he emailed fellow board members on February 3, effectively resigning as chair and delegating his authority to vice chair Stephanie Seguino.
"I want to take this opportunity to affirm to our larger community our core principles to which we as a board are committed," Seguino said in a statement released Saturday. "These include a belief in the importance of civility, fairness, integrity and self-reflection about our own biases."