Two square off for seat on VUES board
VERGENNES — One race on the Vergennes Town Meeting Day ballot offers a rematch of a 2012 contest decided by a single vote: Former multi-term incumbent Vergennes Union Elementary School board director Cheryl Brinkman is challenging incumbent Susan Ferland, the woman who unseated her three years ago, 329-328.
This time around, both are seeking a three-year term on the VUES board. A two-year term on the VUES board is also coming open, with Sue Rakowski running unopposed for that seat.
Each of the candidates was asked the same five questions, and their responses are re-printed here, edited only for length and paraphrased in the biography answers. The questions are:
1. Please provide basic biographical data, including age, career information, public service background and anything else you believe might be relevant.
2. What motivated each of you to seek to return to the VUES board?
3. Are there specific issues or concerns you would like to address if elected or returned to the board?
4. Why should the residents of Vergennes vote for you?
5. Is there anything you would like to add?
QUESTION 1: Personal background
FERLAND: She was born in Burlington in 1964, graduated from Mount Mansfield Union High School and then from the University of Vermont, with a bachelor of science in elementary education and a minor in Latin. She taught fulltime for 17 years in Addison Northeast Supervisory Union schools. She and her husband moved to Vergennes in 1990.
Her children were educated in Vergennes schools. Her son is now a senior at Vergennes Union High School, and her daughter is a St. Michael’s College graduate who works at the UVM Medical Center.
Ferland co-founded the Vergennes Historical Society and now serves as its president. She is a member of the Seth Warner-Rhoda Farrand Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, where she has held several offices, including the state vice regent for the Vermont D.A.R. She has taught catechism at St. Peter’s Catholic Church and has also volunteered at St. Peter’s Closet. She has served on the boards of the Bristol Family Center and the John Strong D.A.R. Mansion.
“After leaving a career in education in order to spend more time with my children, I went to work for Scott and Gary Gaines at Gaines Insurance Agency. Within six months of starting at Gaines Insurance Agency, I earned my license as a personal lines agent where I have continued work to this day,” she wrote.
BRINKMAN:Brinkman, 53, was born in Middlebury and has lived most of her life in Vergennes, now “with my husband, Peter Garon, and daughter, Casey Lynn, and three rescued kitty cats.” Brinkman has worked as a public health chemist at the State Health Department Laboratory for more than 20 years.
Brinkman also has an extensive résumé outside of work. She is the Vergennes representative on the Addison County Solid Waste Management District Board, sits on the Vergennes Planning Commission, and previously served several years on the Addison Northwest Supervisory Union board, as well as the VUES board.
She writes, “I organized many projects through the VUHS Parent Teacher Organization such as Project Grad and before that was involved with the VUES Community Group. I still act as steward and community liaison for the VUES Outdoor Classroom. Having attended VUES and VUHS myself, the Vergennes schools have served me well and I am happy to come full circle to serve our school district.”
QUESTION 2: Reasons to run
BRINKMAN:“The last couple of years for ANwSU have been very difficult both financially and emotionally. Some unfortunate financial events have disheartened many in the community as well as school board members. Some people would be running from this difficult situation, but pitching in and helping make things better is what community-minded people do.
“The school district is now going through a rebuilding phase: The staff is being rebuilt, the financial structure is being rebuilt, and the relationship with the community is being rebuilt. Since I left the VUES Board of Directors three years ago, the principal, superintendent, and business manager are all new. It would be an honor to join the board members who are in this process of rebuilding and shaping the future of our school district.
FERLAND: “During my three-year term as a board member of VUES there have been many changes, including a new principal and a new superintendent. Our new superintendent has brought many needed fiscal changes to the district and has worked intensively with all of the boards to set goals and a plan of action for meeting those goals. I would like the opportunity to continue working to provide students with a quality education that is fiscally responsible.”
QUESTION 3: Specific issues or concerns
FERLAND: “Utilization of technology in our schools and changing the traditional classroom to better meet the needs of all students are two initiatives I look forward to continuing work on, as well as making improvements to the fiscal operations of VUES.
“During the years I taught at Lincoln Community School, I was part of a team that worked to explore and institute new models of delivering instruction to elementary students. Through this work Lincoln made great progress designing and integrating curriculum with art, music, and physical education and organizing children into multigenerational groupings for whole school studies.”
BRINKMAN: “The biggest concern for most school board members right now is how to balance fiscal responsibility without eliminating all the programs that make our schools successful. We all want to educate our children to the best of our ability and allow them to become successful citizens, but if we cannot support the system financially then everything collapses and nobody succeeds.
“Our first priority must be living within our means, but creatively so our programs are also meaningful. Besides financial responsibility, I am also concerned about climate change and energy conservation. I welcome the challenge of bringing our aging schools into a future of changing energy needs, while creating a learning opportunity for our children.”
QUESTION 4: Why vote for you?
BRINKMAN: “Being chair of the ACSWMD for the last three years has given me valuable experience with balancing a similar budget to VUES. The ACSWMD staff is very experienced with anticipating depreciation costs and planning for the unexpected. It is critical to have a five-, 10-, even 20-year plan for expected upgrades, replacements, renovations, etc. I feel I can contribute to the rebuilding of the school district, especially with fiscal responsibility and trust with the community.
“I understand the role of a school board member and how important it is to develop a vision for the future, not just focus on day-to-day operations. My unique experiences with the school district, public service to the community, as well as being a lifelong citizen of Vergennes and parent give me the ability to make a positive difference for the future of VUES.”
FERLAND: “My background in education and my own experience as a parent of a son and a daughter who graduated from VUES bring a wealth of experience. My daily work in the Vergennes community as well affords many opportunities to share and hear public opinion about VUES and education in general.”
QUESTION 5: Anything else?
FERLAND: “I also think it is important to note that I have never accepted the annual stipend paid to board members, currently $700 per year, but ask instead that it be added back into the VUES budget to support education.”
BRINKMAN: “I care deeply for this community both as a taxpayer and as a parent. My daughter is currently a physics major at UVM while also playing in the Orchestra and Latin Jazz due to her love of science and music, which started at VUES. It is imperative we continue to provide these opportunities for our children, but at a cost we can all afford.”
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