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

September 26, 2010

Support for Efforts to Increase Voter Participation

All efforts to increase voter participation in Ward 4 could be offset by congestion at the polling place in St. Mark's Youth Center. All efforts to increase voter participation in Ward 7 could be offset by dissension and confusion about moving back to Hunt School, where access is easier but school will be in session and parking will be limited.  Problem-solving and non-partisan public information is needed -- loud and clear, and repeatedly, starting now! 

  • In Ward 4, we are hearing that school construction is behind schedule and voting activity at St. Mark's will conflict with school activity. Currently there are cars filling the parking lot, spilling over onto the lawns and neighborhood streets. Who is in charge of poll logistics like parking and management of traffic congestion? Councilor Kaplan says she will talk it over with the schools and the police dept. State Rep and Councilor Wright says BPD is aware of the problem and he may ask School Supt. to close school at St. Marks that day if needed. Problem-solving and getting information out to voters should not be left to partisan candidates. Lack of public information, and the perception of polling place congestion, can discourage people from going to the polls on election day. Seeing a police officer there directing traffic could even be a red flag for people to stay away! What do you do when you see congestion ahead? U-turn and get out of there if you can. And you tell friends to avoid the area.  
  • In Ward 7, there is a resolution to move the poll back to Hunt School. The school is apparently not enthusiastic. In the past it was a school off day, but no longer. 
  • Leaving it up to candidates to get people to the polls is lousy. Non-partisan public information is needed, loud and clear, repeatedly, and starting now!
  • Early and absentee voting is an option for some people (like the party faithful) who have made up their minds (and don't want to be bothered by new information), but it is NOT the answer for the majority of voters. MANY independent-minded voters follow the debates, forums, and campaign activities which bring out new information daily, and they vote responsibility when the campaigns end -- after each side has presented their best case and responded to their opponents, after the press has done fact-checking and analysis, and after weighing all sides of the questions and candidates.

September 17, 2010

Ward 7 polls increase parking to avoid congestion. Ward 4 votes at St. Marks -- congestion avoided with advance planning?

When school was getting out today, Shore Rd congestion was alarming from a safety perspective. Could orange cones -- or something -- be set out to slow traffic when children are leaving school on foot, by bike, and in cars? Perhaps an officer to slow traffic on North Ave and oversee the parking, pick up, and crossing of children?
Election day is going to be VERY congested! The St. Marks parking lot if full now with school staff, plus cars on the lawn abd lining the street. Will someone think through this well in advance of election day?

Councilor Kaplan replied that she has noticed the same, and is working with BPD, DPW, and the School Dept to manage the situation now, and on Election Day. Lt. Bovat is monitoring the situation immediately and will take appropriate action.

September 12, 2010

Getting Together to Get Out the VOTE!

All party affiliates and non-aligned people are needed to spread the word. Get Out To VOTE is a non-partisan project. The materials are prepared by the VT Sec. of State's Office, the League of Women Voters, NPAs, and the Burlington Center for Community and Neighborhoods.
We encourage EVERYONE to vote, we want to register EVERYONE, and we want to take information about elections -- polling places, ballots, candidates -- EVERYWHERE so EVERYONE is informed and prepared to VOTE their conscience, without fear or favor.