By Katy Savage
The resignation of Rutland City School Board member Brittany Cavacas on May 11 has led to questions and controversy about who will replace her.
The city charter leaves it to the mayor to make a recommendation to the School Board within 14 days of a resignation, giving Mayor David Allaire until May 25. The School Board can choose to accept or reject his nomination.
Allaire told the Board of Aldermen he had not made up his mind at a meeting on Monday, May 16, but he confirmed rumors on social media that he was leaning toward recommending Bob Pearo, Jr.
Pearo ran in the March election and lost by 220 votes while the next top vote-getter Marisa Kiefaber lost a spot on the School Board by just five votes.
Allaire said he received “numerous emails” on the topic at the Aldermen meeting, with some asking him to support Kiefaber.
“We know why this nomination has become so controversial,” Allaire said at the meeting, explaining the debate about the school mascot has caused dysfunction in city government. School Board changed the mascot from the Raiders to the Ravens back to the Raiders in two years.
“The past two years the School Board’s actions — I’ll put it kindly — have been less than flattering,” Allaire said. “The Raven-Raider controversy has overshadowed everything else.”
Opponents say the Raiders mascot and logo have a problematical history and are offensive to Indigenous groups, while supporters view it as part of the school’s identity.
Kiefaber, who is the daughter of School Board member Kevin Kiefaber, is a Ravens supporter, while Pearo is a Raiders supporter.
Cavacas, who was an advocate of the Raiders, resigned on May 11 after serving on the board for 2 years. Her term was up next March. Cavacas cited her job and health as reasons for her resignation, while hoping the board finds closure about the mascot.
“I do hope that the board focuses on the staff and students and making sure that they are in a safe space not worried about a mascot,” Cavacas said in her resignation letter.
Marybeth Lennox-Levins, who was elected to the School Board in March, read letters from community members to the Board of Aldermen, urging the mayor to appoint Kiefaber, not Pearo.
Resident Jeff Weld said he’s “beyond concerned with the polarization and politicization” of the School Board, according to Lennox-Levins.
“For the city’s mayor to completely ignore the public and appoint a person of his own choosing without any rational explanation of who that person came to be chosen…has the perception of cronyism that will continue to divide our community.”
Amy Allen said the nomination of Pearo over Kiefaber “shortchanges the democratic process” and asked the mayor to support Kiefaber.
“The voters clearly chose her over Pearo, ”Allen said in her letter. “Turing your back on your constituents will leave community members feeling unheard.”
Kiefaber, who attend the Board of Aldermen meeting, said she had a conversation with the mayor earlier that day.
“I encourage Mayor Allaire to please follow the voters and appoint me,” Kiefaber said.
The mascot issue has come to the forefront again by a bill in the Legislature, which passed both the House and Senate, that would prevent schools from having a mascot based on the “race, creed, color, national origin, sexual orientation, or gender identity of any person or group of persons.”
If the bill is signed by the governor, the Vermont Agency of Education would create a policy for school branding, including mascots, slogans, logos and sports teams, by August and establish a process for people to file complaints about any problematic symbols.
The day before Cavacas’ resignation, on May 10, the School Board discussed the mascot for 30 minutes before tabling it to August.
Cavacas was absent from the May 10 meeting, where the School Board voted 5-4 to table the discussion to August and form an ad-hoc committee to discuss the issue in the meantime.
“It needs to end at some point, obviously not everybody is going to be happy,” said School Board member Stephanie Stoodley, who proposed tabling the discussion. “Let’s have civil conversations because we can. We can show students that we can have civil conversations.”
School Board member Kevin Kiefaber, however, wanted to have the discussion that night.
“Students have been hurting a long time because of this mascot,” he said. “Putting it off does not fix the problem. We need to address the problem.”
Some School Board members wanted to postpone it due to a tragedy in school. Wesley Burton, a 13-year-old 8th-grade student at Rutland Middle School, died May 5.
“This is deja vu,” School Board member Tricia O’Connor said. “To bring it up tonight, of all nights, when we have shown there’s no ability to compromise, is very disheartening. It’s disgusting to me. We’re not here for the students tonight.”
Some board members expressed concern the mascot discussion was taking so much time. A motion to push the discussion until June failed. The School Board doesn’t meet in July.
Allaire told the Board of Aldermen he hoped the issue would soon “be in the rear-view mirror” and the city could move on.