Each year, the Milton Independent poses questions to candidates seeking elected office to better inform voters.
This year, three candidates emerged for Milton School Board positions, although only two will be listed on the ballot. Incumbent Cathy Vadnais is running unopposed for another three-year seat. Newcomer Jenn Taylor is running for the year remaining on former member DeWayne Nolan-Watkins’ term, and Shoshawna Mastin is mounting a write-in campaign for the one-year seat.
We asked the candidates three questions and asked them to provide a short bio with their responses. They were each given 450 words to split between the three questions below:
1. Why are you running for school board, and what qualifies you for this position?
2. In recent years, the school board has opted to use either surplus money or fund balance dollars to offset budget increases from year to year. What are the positives and negatives of this practice, and will you support it going forward?
3. How do you define transparency, and, if elected to the school board, how will you increase transparency and trust on the board when dealing with the public?
Editor’s note: Biographical information only edited for length, style and format. Responses edited only for AP style.
• Milton resident for 18 years
• Avid gardener, crafter and baker
• Mother to three children with husband, Rob
• Former teacher with a specialty in teaching reading. My husband is an accountant, and we both prepare taxes and run a microdairy, Hillside Creamery.
• Served as former Cub Master of Troop 631.
• Make and sell bread at the Milton Farmers Market.
1. The question is why do I want to run for school trustee. Well after three years in this position, it’s not so much that I “want” to serve but instead it’s more like I feel compelled to. I have found I have very little influence or power to effect much between the federal and state statutes and mandates we need to follow. The decisions I am required to make need to reflect the needs of both taxpayers and students while following these rules. I have tried to walk this thin line and bear the consequences of my decisions. It has not been easy, but I feel compelled to continue. I am proud that we have put cursive back in the curriculum. I am pleased that we have addressed and fixed the high school locker rooms for $300,000 as opposed to the $3 million-plus originally forecasted. It is encouraging to know that the high school is closer to accreditation.
2. My primary goal is to keep taxes down, but with the fiscal health of Vermont severely challenged, that puts a burden on all of us, including funding education and keeping property taxes down. Last year we put out a zero increase in the budget and were on task to produce a 2 percent increase; however, we were blindsided by the common level of appraisal number, which is part of the state school funding formula. Another question was concerning the fund balance. I have been very vocal about my concerns with fund balances. I have maintained that this is a temporary fix, and the bubble will pop at some time. The administrators have also been informed that in the future, they will need to make some cuts. The fund balance this year is to pilot some programs that could potentially save us money in the long term. We are also trying to set Milton up for a school of choice. School choice is something that will eventually come and we want Milton to be in a place where people want to send their children. This is important to all because the value of your property is aligned with the strength of the local school.
3. Finally I have been asked about transparency. I feel we need to be fully transparent with the community. I am a big proponent of posting all the information we can legally communicate to our web page. The meeting agendas are posted, and we encourage any and everyone to come or tune into the live streaming. I encourage everyone to get involved and check out information from the original source instead of hearing bits and pieces. This will empower you to draw your own conclusions and thus act accordingly. Thank you.
• Married to Chris Taylor with two children, Lauren and Mikey
• Milton resident for over nine years
• Education: Associate’s and bachelor’s degree in social work
• Active Vermont educator’s license
• Employed by the Vermont Department for Children and Families’ Child Development Division as a licensing field specialist
• Committee member for the Town of Milton’s Community Champion Awards for three years, team captain for Relay for Life, participant in community events and cheering on our children during their various activities in town.
1. My life’s work has been built upon advocating for the best interest of all children. My current position includes interpreting and applying state and federal laws, regulations and policies often in high stress moments. I seek out resources to collect and evaluate information to make educated conclusions. This allows for ideas, suggestions and new insight to come forward in a safe and respectful manner to develop the best possible outcome. I offer the ability to listen with an open mind to view multiple perspectives then respond rationally with fairness and transparency.
2. A surplus may be viewed as a savings account. When a budget exceeds actual expenditures, these funds are set aside to be used at another time. The positives of a surplus or fund balance are that money may be used if an emergent need should arise or to keep the budget increase at a minimum. One downside is continuous use of the surplus diminishes the funding available in time of need. The members of the school board are taxpayers, too, and strive to keep the budget increases at a minimum while maintaining or increasing the level of safety and education of the children at the Milton schools. Supporting the use of surplus money or fund balances would be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
3. I define transparency as efficient communication, openness to discussions and clear and deliberate delivery of information in a professional and timely manner. Transparency is the foundation to building trust. I would strive to provide transparency and trust by working with the community to deliver the best possible outcomes for our children, educators and taxpayers. I would like to address two concerns that have come forward regarding my interest in joining the school board: my husband, Chris, is employed by the district as a behavior interventionist and has submitted a petition to join the selectboard. I can assure the community that I would not participate in discussions regarding my husband’s position at the school. In addition, if Chris is elected to the selectboard, we would not discuss business conducted during meetings at home.
I anticipate a learning curve and know I have a lot to learn. I welcome conversations when you see me at various community events, through emails and phone calls. These conversations will help me better serve as your voice on the school board. I am committed to our community and representing its members to the best of my ability. Thank you for your consideration!
• Born and raised in Milton
• Graduated in 2001, joined the Navy and was deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom
• I have a husband and three kids, two in school and one hopefully beginning EEE in the fall
• Currently work for Mountain Transit and drive for Colchester School District, and I am in my third year as a Sunday school teacher
1. I am running for school board for a few reasons. I’m a parent of two who attend school in Milton, and honestly, I’m not happy with the way things are being run. While the teachers are doing their best to educate our youth, there seems to be a large problem with discipline and following discipline procedures in school as well as on the bus. I am also a former bus driver for Milton, and I have seen first hand the administrations either inability or unwillingness to address problems and support the bus drivers. These situations need to be handled by someone who understands the dangers and takes them seriously.
I also feel that currently there seems to be a huge budget problem, wasteful spending and an overall lack of communication and transparency between the public and the school board. While I am only one person and I can’t change the world, I am one person who won’t back down if there is a problem until it is fixed.
2. School budgets are hard to figure; a lot goes into them. However, if we are continuously building a budget with surplus then we need to review that and cut it back. If we are using the surplus from one year to fund the next but we are still increasing the budget and increasing taxes, then I would suspect the spending is out of control, and that needs to stop. If we have a budget surplus then the money shouldn’t get used the next year. Why isn’t it being refunded to the people who are paying it in the first place? Even if it is only $15 a household. Or hold a vote on what to do with the excess. Invest it into something like additional playground equipment or fund another sports program or a youth woodworking program. We build a budget every year, and that budget is from scratch so there shouldn’t be anything left over to use.
3. To me, transparency is a basic principle. Open door policy that allows anyone to see what is going on. There should be no secrets from the people who a) have elected the board in the first place, b) who have had to give up the money you are spending and c) whose children you are responsible for providing a safe and quality education.