By Katy Savage
After pushback from residents, Rutland Mayor David Allaire changed his decision about his nomination to the School Board.
Allaire nominated Rep. Peter Fagan, R-Rutland City, on May 25, a change from his earlier consideration of Bob Pearo, Jr.
Allaire said he received many emails and phone calls regarding his consideration of Pearo.
Many wanted the mayor to nominate Marisa Kiefaber, who lost in the March election by just five votes. Pearo lost by 220 votes.
Fagan was a less controversial option, Allaire said.
“Going back to when I first got elected, which is now five years ago, I promised the voters I would be a mayor for everybody in the city and listen to all sides, partially when it comes to any issue that is so controversial,” Allaire said.
The seat became vacant after Brittany Cavacas resigned earlier this month due to work and health reasons. Cavacas’ term was up in March.
Though Allaire still thinks Pearo would be a good choice, he said Fagan’s experience will be valuable. Fagan has been in the Legislature for 14 years and previously served on the School Board for 13 years, from 2004 to 2017, he also served six years in the U.S. Army and 24 years in the Vermont Army National Guard.
Fagan said he was surprised when he was asked by the mayor to serve. After thinking about it for 48 hours, he agreed.
“If a leader asks you to do something and you have the capacity and the time to do it, you should,” Fagan said.
Fagan is stepping down from the Legislature after this term is up and he said he won’t seek another term on the School Board.
“I’m looking forward to kicking back,” Fagan said.
The mayor’s decision became controversial due to the school mascot debate, which has divided the city for the past couple of years. Some say the Raiders mascot is problematic as it has racist origins, while others view it as an important part of the school’s identity.
The board voted to replace the moniker with the “Ravens” in 2021, but a new composition of school commissioners reversed that decision before the year ended.
The School Board isn’t scheduled to discuss the mascot again until August following an update on state legislation (S.139) requiring schools to ban racist imagery. The Vermont House gave final approval to the bill on Monday, May 9 in a 96-47 vote. Fagan was absent that day. Gov. Phil Scott has yet to sign the bill.
Fagan said he’s received phone calls and emails from parents about the mascot, but he declined to say more.
“I’m really not going to say what I think about anything, I haven’t been there,” Fagan said. “I haven’t been watching.”
Allaire delivered the recommendation to Superintendent Bill Olsen on Wednesday, May 25. School Board chair Alison Notte said she was notified of the decision that night. Notte said she hoped the mayor would have come to her first.
“For at least the last couple decades, it has been standard practice for the mayor to get recommendations from the School Board chair and superintendent prior to making an appointment,” Notte said. “It is definitely disappointing that the mayor would not consider the board and school leadership’s opinions on the needs of the district.”
The School Board will decide whether to accept Allaire’s recommendation at its next meeting on June 14 but won’t vote until August, according to Notte. The board doesn’t meet in July.
Notte said she’s previously worked with Fagan on the School Board and appreciated his history of service.
“I think his experience will be an asset to our board,” Notte said.
Pearo, meanwhile, said he was disappointed in the way the mayor handled the nomination.
“To say something and then retract the nomination tells people you don’t believe in who you were nominating,” Pearo said.
Pearo said he came to the School Board with no agenda and hoped the board would put the mascot issue to rest.