May 31 2020

School Committee Q&A: Candidate Stephen Nelson



In the lead-up to Burlington’s 2020 Town Election on Saturday, June 6 we asked the four candidates for School Committee five questions and gave them the option of posing their own question to themselves to ensure they are able to hit on any point they feel is important for voters to understand. Here are the answers from Incumbent Candidate Stephen Nelson: 


1.  Why did you decide to run for School Committee?

ANSWER:  I am passionate about education and the obligation of our communities to provide the best possible education for all of our students.  I enjoy advocating for programs and policies that improve the delivery of services to our students, especially our students with special needs.  As a former member of the Ways and Means Committee, I understand the interplay between town government and the Burlington Public School System and the importance of short term and long term financial planning.  I would like to be a part of the building projects at the Burlington High School, the Fox Hill School and the Pine Glen, and I believe that my experience on the committee will help to keep these projects on track.

2.  What in your background/experience do you believe makes you a strong candidate for the position?

ANSWER:  I am a graduate of Burlington High School, my two (2) adult children are graduates of Burlington High School and I was a substitute teacher at the Marshall Simons Middle School  and the Burlington High School during my junior and senior undergraduate years at Boston College.  I grew up in the town, I raised my children in the town, and my daughter and son-in-law are currently raising their family in the town.  I firmly believe that I know the Burlington School system inside and out; I know its strengths and its weaknesses and my experience as an attorney with years of experience in court rooms across the Commonwealth positions me to be a strong and effective advocate for the needs of the system.

3.  What do you think should be the main priorities of the School Committee in the next couple of years?

ANSWER:  Aside from the reopening of our schools, which I will discuss in my response to question 4 below, the main priorities of the school committee over the next couple of years are to focus on alleviating overcrowding, particularly at the Fox Hill School, securing the funding for the desperately needed improvements to the HVAC System and Science Labs at the Burlington High School, and investigating the options for improving the facility at the Pine Glen School.  

Aside from these Capital Projects, we need to maintain the system that is currently in place for financing the tuitions for our children with special needs who require out of district placements.  I was a strong advocate for transferring this portion of the school department’s budget to the town side of the budget as a fixed expense, and the Board of Selectman and the Ways and Means Committee have been extremely supportive of this financing arrangement which benefits all of our students by providing stability to the school department’s budget and adequate funding for our special education budget.  Other priorities the school committee needs to address revolve around staffing.  We had requests from all school principals for additional staffing, and unfortunately we were only able to add two (2) positions, both nurses which were desperately needed out of the twenty-two (22) new positions that were requested.  We need to advocate more forcefully to fill these much needed positions.

4.  What do you see as the role of the School Committee in the short/medium term to help address the school closure and the COVID-19 situation?

ANSWER: The School Committee needs to continue to work with the administration to secure input from parents, teachers and students as to the remote learning process and steps that can be taken to improve the delivery of online instruction.  Presently, whether or not our schools will reopen in September is an open question.  We have been told that the Department of Education may be issuing guidelines in mid-June, and the School Committee needs to be poised to act quickly once the guidelines are in place.  It is imperative that the School Committee secure the funding necessary to implement the guidelines, whether it be personal protective equipment, masks, sanitation equipment for use by the custodial staff, additional bus transportation and also professional development, in the event remote learning extends into the fall.

5.  What is your philosophy to listening to residents and maintaining open lines of communication and transparency?

ANSWER: I think that listening to residents and maintaining open lines of communication and transparency are among the most important functions of a School Committee member.  We have public participation at the beginning and the end of every School Committee meeting, and parents and residents are encouraged to contact us by phone, email or social media.  Dr. Conti and Mr. Larkin have upgraded the BPS website and I believe this site is quite valuable to parents and an effective way to deliver information.  We are now receiving monthly financial updates which include updates on all of the revolving accounts so that the School Committee, a Ways and Means Committee and the public can monitor the expenditure of funds and any potential funding issues that may be on the horizon.  

I believe that it is imperative that School Committee members listen to all residents, including residents that no longer have children in the school system,  to balance the sometimes competing interests and come up with a solution that works well for all stake holders.

6.  Write a question to yourself and answer it. What are some of the things you have most enjoyed while serving on the School Committee?

ANSWER:  Having the opportunity to observe students perform or make presentations at School Committee meetings or at other events is certainly at the top of my list.  Performances by our poet laureate each year, the leads from our annual high school musical, students returning from trips abroad  to share the thrills of their experience, award recipients in virtually every subject matter imaginable and presentations by students involved in after school activity clubs, such as the Robotics Club, makes serving on the Committee very rewarding.

I have also enjoyed the process of working with the schools subcommittee of Ways and Means, which is a sub-committee I once served on, working through the annual budgets and capital warrant article requests in an effort to gain consensus on the budget which will be presented to Town Meeting in the spring of each year.  I enjoy the exchange of information, ideas and analysis that takes place and I truly believe that the process serves the town well.

Finally, I have served as School Committee Chairman on five (5) separate occasions and I always enjoy representing the Committee at the various springtime events honoring our graduating seniors and undergrads who have achieved recognition for outstanding accomplishments.  I am saddened this year’s graduating class has not been able to experience the traditional senior events, and my heart goes out to their parents as well.  It appears to me that our high school students are wise beyond their years, and they continue to amaze and inspire me.


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