September 28, 2010

School Supt. addresses voters -- WARD 4 votes at ST. MARK'S YOUTH CENTER, WARD 7 votes at MILLER CENTER

Dear Councilors and Mayor Kiss
It has come to my attention that the city council has passed a resolution regarding the Ward 4 polling site and that there are also questions about Ward 7. I would like to weigh in as superintendent of the Burlington schools.
First, please know that the schools are happy to host polling places where it makes sense and is safe to do so. We feel it is a great way to get the community into the schools, especially those who may not normally have a reason such as kids to come into the schools. The schools are often used as community centers and this is a wonderful way to welcome the community. In addition, it is good for our students to see the democratic process in action and we often take this opportunity to talk to students about voting and having a voice and the role they will play as future leaders of our city and our country.
That said, I need to revisit the idea of "when it is safe". Over a year ago, I suggested to Mayor Kiss that the polling site be moved out of Hunt Middle School to the Miller Center, as Hunt is not a safe place during election day. While our other schools can offer a semi-private polling room, usually the gym with a separate entrance and exit, Hunt cannot. In fact, the entryway which voters must cross to get to the polls is one of the busiest hallways during normal operating school hours. The risk of students running into voters, or vice versa, is quite high. In addition, we spend every other day of the school year limiting who has access to the school buildings during the school day in order to maintain safety. We have worked hard with the Burlington Police Department to set up procedures that keep the school welcoming and open to those who have legitimate business there while keeping students and staff safe. On election day, at Hunt, this is completely disregarded and we feel as though the entire campus is open to anyone, given that the polling site is not separate from the workings of the school. In addition, voters who enter the parking lot as students arrive are often not fully aware this is a school facility and students are everywhere. We have turned to BPD each year to help keep that parking lot safe from drivers who do not know the routine, as we have 400 students arriving for school or leaving school.
I understand that the Miller Center, which I suggested as a new site given its close proximity to the current site, is not acceptable to all. I also understand that Councilor Dober is advocating for a school site, for the very reasons we normally welcome polling sites in our schools. Therefore, I would like to offer CP Smith School as a polling site for Ward 7, as early as this November. We believe it would be safer for students, and wonderful for the community to get in and see what is being done with Burlington dollars to upgrade the building to code. Not all of Smith will be that site by election day in November; however, the primary wing will be at Smith and we feel we can make the gym available for voting.
I understand also there is discussion about the voting at St Mark's for Ward 4. We will still be in St Mark's with mover half of the Smith student population on election day. I had offered Flynn Elementary School as an option, and with the Smith Kindergarten out of the old gym at Flynn, that room can be made available. It is not an option for me to close school at St Mark's on election day, as we have a finite amount of days we are mandated to provide an education, and the construction moves are pushing us up against a wall with that mandate.
I would be happy to discuss these two options for Wards 4 and 7 with you or whomever is appropriate. I again stress that Hunt is not a safe option for Ward 7, but we can offer Smith, and that Flynn is a better option that St. Mark's for Ward 4. Please let me know if you need further information.
 Jeanne Collins, Superintendent of Schools, Burlington School District, 802-864-8474