South Burlington School Board Oks budget proposal for final vote; declines to put Rebels nickname on ballot

South Burlington High School
The football field and track at South Burlington High School. Photo courtesy South Burlington School District
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.

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Gail Callahan

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  • Peter Chick

    Perhaps the individual that hatched the idea to change the name could pick up the tab.

    • Ray Gonda

      It was not an individual it was many individuals ever since the name was originally adopted. But this is the first time there has been a sustained opposition and organized movement committed to the change. There is no one individual to pick up the tab.

      It seems awfully funny that those worried about name-change costs threaten suits against the school district (the Rebel Alliance people) which will cost one heck of a lot more for the school district to defend against. The school district is obliged to defend the decision or risk losing its legitimacy as a duly-authorized decision-making body and migrating to one that changes with the prevailing political winds – bending to the latest pubic (majority or not) whim and fancy. This is the weakness and likely the downfall in the position of those who threaten such suits.

  • Homer sulham

    Is all this controversy about the use of the word “rebel” being overblown?
    It seems to me that there is a bit of rebel in all of us. I doubt if it relates to racism most of the time.

    • Ray Gonda

      I agree with you It was not overblown until a small beginning group created a website called “Rebel Alliance” and began railing against the change and spreading disinformation as though it were a life-or-death situation.

      The duly authorized board of education, responding to a plethora of concerned residents, simply made a decision after two years of consideration (and a re-branding effort – a way to whitewash the name) to change it because of its ties to the Southern Confederacy (ref: press articles and pictures and yearbooks from the times).

      So the name “Rebel” was not the everyday meaning of the word “rebel” but had its specific origin from the confederacy – as a symbol of the city of South Burlington breaking away from the city of Burlington.

  • Rich Lachapelle

    Since the people have not been given the option of making a direct
    decision about changing the mascot, they will exercise their next-best
    option: to use the school budget to express derision about spending
    precious public dollars implementing an act of political correctness.
    Those folks that stick to their notion that an “offensive” mascot is a
    “civil rights issue” apparently have to be taught a lesson in the form
    of a reduced budget for funding the things that actually matter in
    school. When we stop obsessing about skin color and put more emphasis
    on the thickness of peoples’ skin, we will all be better off.

  • Paul Richards

    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.”
    “support our schools”? Don’t you mean support the monopoly that feeds the union and the teachers and continues to have a chokehold on our throats? It has nothing to do with the schools and certainly nothing to do with the children.