The South Burlington School Board has declined to place the question of scrapping the Rebels’ nickname on the ballot as part of a citywide referendum.
The board voted to drop the moniker in February. Supporters of the name change argue that the nickname is racist and is associated with the Confederacy.
The board Wednesday night also approved the third proposed budget for fiscal year 2018. Voters have rejected two previous spending proposals.
The $49 million budget preserves elementary school class sizes and most middle and high school programs. It includes no incremental spending for the nickname change.
Voters are slated to consider the proposed spending plan on June 6. If the budget fails a second time, then a financial package equal to the current budget of $46.9 million will be implemented. Voters rejected proposed spending plans on Town Meeting Day in March and again in April.
School Board Chairman Elizabeth Fitzgerald said the board is receiving “a lot of positive feedback from people” who didn’t support the previous budgets.
About 100 people attended the budget hearing at the Frederick Tuttle Middle School in South Burlington.
Kathy Buley, co-president of the local union the South Burlington Educators’ Association, said she is “hopeful that the budget will pass and that people will continue to support our schools.”
Also, the fight to hold a citywide referendum on the Rebels nickname was all but derailed at the meeting.
A group of citizens who support retaining the name circulated a petition, garnering 700 signatures, asking the board to hold a vote on the controversial nickname.
School Board member Steve Wisloski made a motion to tack on the petition onto the ballot, but it died on the floor after failing to receive a second. The board also failed to act on another petition from The Rebel Alliance that called for a ballot item that would have blocked funding for the name change.
“The citizen petitions were taken very seriously, and the board is elected to make those tough decisions,” Fitzgerald said. “There is no money in the budget for the removal of the Rebel nickname” (from team uniforms and scoreboards.)
A public Facebook page said to be created by The Rebel Alliance said that a “legal defense fund” had been established, and the group “will use all legal means at their disposal to oppose the School Board and administration.”
South Burlington resident Erica Snyder Havers is serving as treasurer of the account. She said she is upset about the lack of movement from school officials about the name debate.
“The board and administration continues to persist in not listening to the people,” Havers said.
As of early Friday morning, the GoFundMe page said to be overseen by Havers has raised $2,540 of a $50,000 goal.
People posting comments on the Rebel Alliance Facebook page strongly criticized the decision to drop the nickname.
A Facebook post believed written by Michael Neary rejected the notion that the school nickname is racist.
“I can honestly say when I went to South Burlington High,” Neary wrote. “The REBEL name had never crossed my mind as the south will rise again. It simple did not mean anything to me but we are REBELS and we will never conform to the norm….”
Chantel Berard of Winooski also graduated from South Burlington High School. She pointed out she is concerned about the ongoing debate about the decision to scrap the Rebels’ nickname.
“I think it’s ridiculous,” Berard said. “I think it’s a waste of money, and there are better ways to spend money. Just because a small group of people don’t like the name, doesn’t mean it should be changed.”
Attempts to reach school board student representative Isaiah Hines on the matter were unsuccessful. Hines is a leading voice in the effort to drop the nickname.
In the meantime, a committee comprised of 900 South Burlington students is weighing in on a new nickname. The 12 semifinalists: Avalanche, Blizzard, Blue Lightning or (Bolts for short), Gray Wolves, Huskies, Pride (Pack of Lions), Storm, Thunder, Timber Wolves, Wildcats, Wolf Pack and Wolves.
The next poll is slated for May 16, and a final vote is scheduled for two days later. The South Burlington School Board is expected to hear the final results June 7.