Lawmakers undertake overhaul of public education governance structure

A proposal that would dramatically change the structure of public education is gaining traction in the Vermont Legislature.

School boards would be consolidated into smaller units that would govern larger groups of students, if a plan now in the House continues to build momentum. The House Education Committee is considering the elimination of the state’s 60 supervisory unions and “realigning” the state’s 282 school districts into 30 to 60 districts. The deadline for the consolidation of school boards would be January 2018.

The way public schools are currently managed at the local level is outdated, lawmakers say. They believe Vermont’s 19th century governance structure is hampering educational opportunities for students, especially in rural areas.

Lawmakers say changing the way schools are governed will improve curriculum development, teaching practices, access to data and ultimately lead to better educational outcomes for students.

Lawmakers hold the Burlington school district up as a model. There, one board manages a pre-K to 12th grade public school system for 4,000 students.

A secondary result, they say, could be potential cost savings and more stability for taxpayers through better management of financial resources.

Rep. Peter Peltz, D-Woodbury, floated a two-page memo last month that outlined the criteria for realignment including educational opportunities, fiscal efficiency, community involvement, transportation and stability for taxpayers. A bill has not yet been drafted.

Rep. Peter Peltz

Rep. Peter Peltz

“The general proposal is to make sure we do our best to channel resources on the whole broad front of resources and finances to encourage good practices and support for principals and teachers at the school level by first looking at how we’re channeling it currently and by looking at the governance structure and the board structure and trying to streamline that to make it more efficient,” Peltz said. “We have a huge disparity in terms of educational outcomes in this state.”

School boards and the Agency of Education would have several years to decide what shape the new districts would take based on historic patterns, geography, transportation and educational programs. An iterative map would be developed and mutually agreed upon by state and local officials over an extended period of time.

Two organizations that would be directly affected by the proposal — the Vermont Superintendents Association and the Vermont School Boards Association — are willing to consider the plan now taking shape in the House Committee on Education. The state’s teachers union is also open to the idea.

Representatives from the superintendents and school boards associations say consolidating school districts into larger units of governance would solve one of the biggest problems for rural supervisory unions: Finding qualified superintendents who are willing to manage five to eight separate local school boards. The turnover rate for superintendents this year is 30 percent.

Rebecca Holcombe, the new secretary of education, would be charged with creating and managing a design team to work with local school boards to determine how best to combine districts in regions of the state. Her primary concern is whether restructuring public education will help students excel.

Holcombe, who was appointed to office by the governor in December, has said repeatedly that any structural realignment of the public education system must ultimately lead to better outcomes for all students. Most schools in Vermont have failed to meet the federal government’s proficiency requirements for low-income students under the No Child Left Behind law.

“It has to be about student outcomes,” Holcombe told lawmakers recently. “It can’t be that some of the kids get opportunities and others don’t. If you fail on that I would really question if this is good for kids.”

Education Secretary Rebecca Holcombe at a press conference in September 2013. Photo by Viola Gad/VTDigger

Education Secretary Rebecca Holcombe. Photo by Viola Gad/VTDigger

The current system has problems, Holcombe says. She is concerned about superintendent churn in the current system and how a lack of stable leadership has eroded student achievement.

“If you have coherence around goals and you are clear about what you want children to do, you have a better chance of getting there,” Holcombe said.

There are 12 different types of schools in Vermont that come in roughly five different sizes — all of which take a different approach to best practices, curriculum and assessment, she says.

As a result, her agency has a difficult time gathering data from schools and assessing best practices. This makes it impossible to draw conclusions about schools that are succeeding or failing. “It’s very difficult to assess problems when you don’t have comparable data,” she said.

Larger district units, Holcombe said, could improve reporting requirements, stabilize leadership and create an environment in which schools can innovate.

And then there is the money question.

Student enrollment has dropped 20 percent over the past 15 years, but spending continued to increased over that same period.

Despite the efforts of local boards to keep spending in check, Vermont has the second highest rate of spending per pupil in the nation, after New York state. It costs $18,571 a year to educate a child in Vermont.

Statewide property taxes went up 5 cents per $100 of assessed value this year and will likely go up an additional 7 cents this year. Education experts worry that many school budgets will be rejected on Town Meeting Day even though local school boards have tried to keep spending increases below 3 percent. In many towns taxes will go up 8 percent to 11 percent, as a result of spending in previous years (school spending went up 5 percent last year, for example) and shifts in the state’s Education Fund, including the rebasing of the General Fund transfer and new programs paid for out of the fund including pre-K programs, adult basic education, prison education and a new dual enrollment program for high school seniors.

If voters start to balk en masse at the price tag, some educators say there will be cuts to basic services and teacher layoffs that could erode the public school system.

In a climate of declining enrollments, Holcombe says, it’s going to get harder and harder for very small school districts to provide a good education for students.

Joel Cook, CEO of the Vermont-NEA, stresses that the state would be “well-advised not to gloss over the fundamental role that local communities will play in the effectiveness and passage of any change plan.”

“We do not oppose changes to the governance system, so long as whatever system is in place provides the best array of educational opportunities for all — not just most — of our children and the transition to any new system does not disrupt the lives of educators or their ability to focus on their jobs,” Cook said in a statement. “We believe there is a continuing and fundamental place in this discussion for local communities, not merely because of their historic role in education but also because of the continuing and fundamental place their public schools play in the life of our communities. To the extent any plan addresses these and other fundamental matters, we will be able to lend our expertise and possible support.”

Jeff Francis, chair of the Vermont Superintendents Association, said the formation of single pre-K to 12th grade school districts would enable schools to deliver educational opportunities and help school leaders measure results.

“More and more we hear that supervisory unions don’t have utility in the context of a 21st century learning system,” Francis said. “There’s a tremendous amount of redundancy that goes on from school district to school district, and as our school districts get smaller, you see more and more struggling to see how they can create opportunities for kids in their communities.”

Lawmakers make no promises about cost savings. Rep. Johannah Donovan, D-Burlington, chair of House Education, supports the new governance system and she says it could lead to better cost effectiveness over time.

“I think it’s accountability for taxpayers; I think it’s more accountability for students, and so I think we’ll see where we’ll go with it,” Donovan said.

A complicated system

Vermont has a multi-layered system of local governance. The state has 282 school districts with 1,440 school board members and 60 supervisory unions. In rural areas of the state, many school boards manage student populations of fewer than 100 students.

Vermont has the lowest ratio of students to school board members in the nation: One school board member for 57 students. Maine, which has the second lowest ratio, has one school board member for 135 students. In other states, school boards manage districts with tens of thousands of students.

The last time Vermont changed the governance structure for public schools was in 1892 when the state went from 2,500 local school boards to a total of 300. In the 1960s, with the advent of the interstate highway system and a burgeoning student population, Gov. Phil Hoff pressed for a union school district system to support funding for better high schools.

Over the years, governors have attempted to reduce the number of school districts. Hoff tried and failed, as did Gov. Madeleine Kunin in the 1980s. Richard Cate, commissioner of the Department of Education, floated a plan in 2006 to consolidate supervisory unions that was also relegated to the dustbin.

This time, lawmakers in House Education are taking the lead, and they’re taking a different tack after their previous attempt (Act 153), which gives local school districts incentives to merge voluntarily, failed.

Political will appears to be building behind the structural changes to school governance. House Speaker Shap Smith told the Democratic caucus last month to keep an open mind as House Education creates a framework for a new system.

Shap Smith, Speaker of the Vermont House.  Photo by Roger Crowley/for VTDigger

Shap Smith, Speaker of the Vermont House. Photo by Roger Crowley/for VTDigger

“I think we may be at a unique point in time in the history of education in the state of Vermont,” Smith said. “We have a lot to be proud of, and I think we could do even more. The educational community has been looking at issues that have been on the front burner around governance and the way we structure our educational system for a long time. The last time we looked at school districts in the state of Vermont was in 1892. It’s good to look at governance every century and a half.”

Smith asked lawmakers to ask questions about the current system. “Are our institutions now presenting the best education opportunities that they could? Are there barriers in the current system and should we take a look at that? There are some barriers, and we could take a look at our way of doing things.”

Peltz and others say the system has to make a historic shift in the way schools are governed in order to address a convergence of pressures — including global competition for jobs and dwindling tax capacity — that are hurting local public schools. Lawmakers say realigning the governance structure will result in more equitable student access to educational opportunities, better school management, shared use of resources and eventual cost savings.

Declining enrollments have resulted in the depopulation of many small schools in Vermont. Since the late 1990s, the student population has dropped from about 105,000 students to about 89,000 in fiscal year 2014.

Of the state’s 282 school districts, 231 have fewer than 500 students; 92 districts have fewer than 100 students.

Statewide property tax revenues are distributed to schools based on a per student reimbursement. As small schools have seen a further erosion of student enrollments, funding from the state has also declined.

Some school districts are so small that a slight change in the factors that affect the formula for state and local funding can translate into steep increases in local property taxes. The small town of Walden, for example, rejected its school budget six times in the past year. The factors in play? The district saw a 13 percent increase in taxes, a decline in school enrollments and several students who need special education services moved to town.

“When you only have relatively few students any variables — a few families moving out of town, students with high needs moving in, changes in property values — any of these things can dramatically change taxes,” according to Steve Dale, executive director of the Vermont School Boards Association.

Stephen Dale, executive director of the Vermont School Boards Association. Photo by Hilary Niles/VTDigger

Stephen Dale, executive director of the Vermont School Boards Association. Photo by Hilary Niles/VTDigger

Meanwhile, student enrollment in the state’s cities is growing and costs are going up in larger districts to accommodate the need for more supports for low-income and English as a Second Language students.

School boards consider the plan

The plan would necessarily mean a reduction in the number of school board members in Vermont. The issue is very emotional for many school board members who see local schools as the center of their communities.

Nevertheless, the 29-member executive board of the Vermont School Boards Association last week voted unanimously to pursue alternatives to the current system with the Legislature and the Agency of Education.

It was a difficult decision, Dale said, and support from the boards is fragile. “We want to be engaged, but we did not take a specific vote on any of the outcomes,” he said.

Board members are concerned about how the state will partner with local districts to create an equitable system that continues to maintain the close ties between communities and schools.

They understand that change, however painful, is necessary, Dale says.

“People are saying the status quo is not justifiable, that there needs to be a new path forward, but it’s critical that we get it right because it’s a very fragile conversation and could come apart at any time,” Dale said. “We need to start with the fundamental belief that it’s important to go to a different place, and the question is what is that place.”

Dale expects the broader VSBA membership to react in a one of three ways. “Some people will be enthusiastic, and some people will be angry, and some people will be wondering what the heck you’re doing,” he said.

It’s important that the state make a commitment to be a partner in the process with local school boards, otherwise it will come off as a top-down directive from Montpelier, he said.

School boards are under pressure from local voters who are questioning dramatic increases in property taxes, even though boards have done an “unbelievable job” on their budgets this year, keeping spending increases below 3 percent.

Nevertheless, some districts are seeing double-digit tax increases.

“We are very concerned about this upcoming town meeting,” Dale said. “If any sizable budgets come down, you can predict in small school schools teachers will be cut. This won’t be coming out of something you wouldn’t notice this will come out of opportunities for students.”

Anne Galloway

Comments

  1. Joelen Mulvaney :

    Current districts can handily dispense with superintendent turnover by eliminating the position. It will also save tons of $$$$. Consolidation is NEVER a good idea, bigger is not better and less accountability is often the result. The best way to improve education is to pay and support teachers well and bring democracy into the classroom. How can we model and teach personal responsibility, decision-making, leadership and democracy when we run schools based upon dictatorship?

    • Richard G Rogers :

      I agree. The proven, best way to improve the education students receive is to lower student-teacher ratios. We can’t afford to do this because so much money goes toward administrative costs.

  2. Jamie Carter :

    While taking up the governance issue is a good first step, our legislators need to be reforming the funding mechanism. I’m afraid they believe if they cut a few administrators and consolidate districts it’s going to be enough costs savings and the funding mechanisms will remain as they are.

    • Beverly Biello :

      I agree. Not only does funding need to be reformed, but it would be very irresponsible if they do not build in stringent cost controls into the new process. That was the problem with Act 60 and 68 – it was all about how to spend and collect money, not how to control costs. When there are caps on spending, it’s amazing how creative people can become with regard to doing more with less.

      • charlie Shapiro :

        Bev, right on!!! They should remember that every coin has two sides.

  3. rosemarie jackowski :

    Cut administrative cost.

    Did I read here a while back that there are 24 school staff members for each 100 students? Maybe there are too many educational ‘experts’ hired who push their own agenda and don’t really improve education.

  4. Ernest A Zick Jr :

    Streamlining our outdated system is certainly a good idea. But at the same time, should we look into all of the agencies that currently deliver services to our children…and the confusion between them. If a program is working well for a 2 1/2 year old child why must it be eliminated when he/she reaches 3 years and “officially” enter the educational system. Likewise, if a program is designated to serve 7 – 11 year olds…yet working well for a current 11 year old…why must it stop when they turn 12? Mental health, educational services, OT, PT, Speech and many other helpful programs should not have age or grade limitations. Neither should the parent have to search for these services. And there should be only one source of funding for all of this. Not education or mental health or voc rehab…one single pot of money should be established for all programs and services…..rant over….wake up folks

  5. Bill Dunnington :

    I would like to see Vermonters take a stand and effect a mass refusal to pay a penny of incremental property tax. Pull a Nancy Reagan and just say “no.”

    This is an irresponsible sham that has gone on too long.

    Time to force some action in Montpelier to think very hard but not very long.

    • charlie Shapiro :

      You’ve got a good point.

  6. “Lawmakers hold the Burlington school district up as a model. There, one board manages a pre-K to 12th grade public school system for 4,000 students. … A secondary result, they say, could be potential cost savings and more stability for taxpayers through better management of financial resources.”

    Uh .. anybody at the statehouse bother to check total budget per student? Burlington is at $18,454 (FY14 numbers … link: http://education.vermont.gov/data/per-pupil-spending) Careful what your asking for.

    Anyway (I’m one of those VSBA board members that supported the VSBA resolution) I’m looking for five values to be strengthened:

    Public education
    Fair governance
    Local accountability and input
    Parental and student choice
    Accountability to the bigger system (society)

    Public education means access to a quality education that is free of charge at the door. Tax paid in other words.

    Fair governance means a system that allows for essentially equal say so for communities large and small and in between at the board level. This could be done with a process that appoints school board members instead of directly electing them. Think of a locally elected school board appointing the main board members just as we do today with supervisory unions. Small population centers should not be at the mercy of large ones when it comes to education.

    It is imperative we continue to emphasize a tight coupling between schools and the parents, students and local communities that support them.

    Parental and student choice – this would work great with a requirement that recognized independent schools be formed by as a “Vermont Benefit” corporation and some required bylaws about non-profit and public good.

    And yes, the public at large deserves to know schools, parents and students are meeting some basic requirements – support goes both ways.

    • Nicely put, Sandy. However, we can argue till we’re deaf about vague principles–how would you write a bill to solve these problems? I’m working on one with solutions suggested by Campaign for Vermont: reduce the 62 superintendents to 9, centered around the 9 high school tech centers. Each sending town sends a board member to that supervisory union and the super only works with that board. No reduction in school districts–how much to board members get paid? But the supervisory union deals with the cost of special ed over the whole union so no small town gets stuck with a huge special ed bill.

      • First begin by telling me about SU responsibilities and functions and how they’re funded.

        Then explain how those responsibilities and functions can be efficiently and effectively (efficacy) moved as far from the district as you propose without it becoming defacto centralization.

  7. Sandy Gregg :

    This sounds like one big shell game to confuse taxpayers. Consolidation of Supervisory Unions to 16 to follow the Tech Centers would immediately save taxpayers a lot of money with no effect on students. Local school boards do not cost taxpayers any money. Education dollars should be focused on just K -12 and not on anything else.

    • I agree. But is it 16 or 9 tech centers? I guess I have to recheck that.

      • Wendy wilton :

        There are 16 tech centers in VT. Consolidating to 30 districts will not be enough to have meaningful long term structural or funding reform.

        Randy Brock and I proposed a consolidation of school governance to 16 districts defined by the 16 tech center districts in 2011, along with broad public school choice to allow for parent choice within the districts. We also proposed increasing the student:teacher ratio to 15:1 average in each district, which is the national average.

        At the time we proposed this idea we calculated this would save the Ed Fund and Vermont taxpayers about $130 million, or 10% of the Ed Fund budget. The savings would be greater today because our student:teacher ratio has slipped and our costs have increased significantly.

        Broad public school choice is an important element of reform if is to be successful. Parental choice will provide an impetus for increasing STEM education and centers of educational instruction for other areas such as the arts and environmental learning. It would also help many students who struggle with the social environment in schools today to chose a different school that may be a better fit. Public school choice will also give parents a lever of influence over their child’s education they do not have in today’s structure and is sorely missing. This would be democracy in education reform that other comments have suggested as parents would have a direct voice and impact on their child’s education.

        If you’d like a copy of our proposal send me a message at my email address: [email protected]

        • Sara DeGennaro (weathersfield) :

          School choice is so important. Both my children obtained excellent educations through a combination of scholarships and tuition. And they saved our district money, since tuition students only get to spend the state average-not what local high school demand.
          What I don’t understand in all this consolidation talk is what state do they think we live in? Public options are workable for our bigger communities but how are parents going to get their kids to these far flung “better” schools in our rural locations? Drive them or transport them an hour each way? Is this a useful way for children to spend their time-a third of the day on a bus? Busing is already a huge cost within districts.
          Once again the urban north is dominating the mind set-what works in Burlington is not a model for the rest of us.
          Bigger is better maybe financially but there is no evidence that it is true educationally, in fact, quite the opposite.

  8. rosemarie jackowski :

    Rama…great comments. BUT, why appoint board members. That seems undemocratic.

    • The purpose of appointing a centralized school board rather then electing it is to equalize the representation among participating communities. This will enable a level playing field between the larger and smaller population centers – big will not be able to close down and absorb small without small’s consent.

      The Orange North SU consists of Orange, Washington and Williamstown. Williamstown is larger then those two communities combined, or, if you count students, slightly smaller then that combination. Yet at the SU board each community is represented by 3 board members. SU boards can do this because they are appointed by the elected local board – if SU boards were elected positions the “one person one vote” concept would come into play and Williamstown would effectively have control over the supervisory union.

      I do not believe the latter situation would be of equal benefit to all the students in the SU.

      “Union” school districts give us a path forward: in a Union district each local community maintains its own school district with an elected local board. Of course the local board does not oversee an active school – the board that oversees the school district itself (including buildings) is the Union board.

      As things stand today Union boards are also elected and thus must be proportional to population (or you can use members at large – but that tends to default to population representation). I’m thinking a Union model where the locally elected board appoints the “Union” board – just as we do today with supervisory unions.

      Fair representation for ALL students regardless of their community of origin.

      • Stuart Lindberg :

        Appointing board members vs. electing them as well as eliminating local school boards is taxation without representation. So parents and taxpayers are supposed to hand over the money and trust that appointed members, school administrators and state officials are going to do the right thing. This opens the door even further to no accountability.

  9. John McClaughry :

    Yet another consolidation thrust! I’ve been watching them since Hoff’s in 1965. All of them collapsed, including the one in 1987 comically entitled “Strengthening Local Control”.
    Consolidation will save money only by scrapping school boards and closing schools. Locals who want their cherished community school will be tempted to do what the village of North Bennington did: create their local independent school. That will of course have to be forbidden. Since the mega districts will necessarily contain at least one public high school, that will be the end of parental choice in the 90 tuition towns. And of course there will be a mega bargaining unit, driven by the NEA, which can out organize citizens scattered over a dozen component towns. Let the good times roll!

  10. Dave Bellini :

    Vermont doesn’t need education reform, Vermont needs PROPERTY TAX REFORM.
    Vermonters need a property tax cap. The current income sensitivity is a good thing but the legislature and the Gov are making noise that they want to reduce it. That’s BAD. An easier system is to cap a primary home’s tax at a percentage of the assessed value. Everyone would understand it and then the education debate could continue ad nauseam but school boards and city councils would be on a budget.

  11. Larry Hopkins (Readsboro ) :

    Prime example of minor factors that have tax payers irate. We have only 96.99 ADM’s so we are small. Our budget is up less than $21,000 ( 1.63% ) but our school tax rate will increase 18.59%…main factors are three (3) additional High school students ( choice as we do not have a High school ) and one employee going from not taking insurance and now opting for a Family Plan………who suffers if this budget shot down? As an FYI, this is the first year we have ever exceeded the Base Cost per Pupil since Act 60 began.

    • And lest we forget each of those items mentioned by Larry would have the exact same effect on a larger district’s expenditures – in other words no amount of consolidation would change the increase to the education fund that tuition payments and increased insurance costs entail.

      Unless, of course, we’re going to do away with school choice and employee health insurance benefits.

    • Beverly Biello :

      Has anyone identified WHY our school spending statewide goes up so much each year? For example, why have we added 3,000 new positions in the system over the same time we’ve lost 20,000 students? If we know exactly what’s driving up the costs, let’s focus on that as a good start.

      • Wendy wilton :

        Hi Beverly,
        You need to understand Act 60 and how it works to drive costs continually upward despite the declining enrollment. A good start would be to contact the Ethan Allen Institute for more information.

  12. David Black :

    We need to buy more lottery tickets.
    Fine/tax the drug dealers and users.
    Fine/tax incarcerated people.
    All proceeds to education.

  13. Bill Banas :

    Let’s be very careful when we start discussing consolidation. As noted previously, bigger is not always, and I might suggest, not often, better.

    We need to look closely at the factors that are limiting opportunities for our students from town to town. Why does one small school have many high achieving students and one 10 minutes up the road have fewer? Very often there is a significant difference in the opportunities and input coming from the parents such as early time spent reading to and with their children, access to and enrollment in pre-school and head start and active PTO’s that help to get and keep parents engaged in the lives of all students.

    I’ve seen the large schools. My kids have been in them in other states before making our home in Vermont. I wouldn’t trade our local K-8 school with 116 kids for anything and neither would my 3 children! They build strong friendships, know and respect their teachers and administrators and are held accountable for their progress and their actions both in school and out by a community that knows them and cares about them.

    When we start talking about consolidation, we need to be careful we don’t end up losing many of these small schools that provide outstanding growth and learning opportunities for our children for the sake of saving money and reducing administrative challenges. Let’s move forward. Carefully.

    • Wendy wilton :

      Consolidation must be limited to governance and implemented with broad public school choice to include the independent schools that act as public schools today. That lever will provide the balance needed to ensure that consolidation will not be harmful in ways that are unintended. What limited school choice we have today is the last bit of true local control we have left in education. Let’s expand it, not diminish it.
      The Governor and the majority of the legislature will seek to diminish or eliminate public school choice under pressure from the education lobby. The concept that is being proposed will be ineffective in my view.

  14. I think when people realize we are being taken over by an ideology of Socialist Collectivist
    (Obama) Government, they will have a “smack yourself in the forehead moment”. Our State is aligned with the Federal Government and on WELFARE from the Federal Government. Common Core Curriculum, Matching Funds, Start up money and Federal grants are all welfare to the State to buy our Sovereignty. Have we forgotten that the Tenth Amendment of the United States gives each State the power to guide their own destiny. I am afraid our Leaders have been addicted to Federal money for so long they can no longer see Vermont is a FREE REPUBLIC! No, instead, they take the money and discard our Sovereignty. It’s all Federal (Obama) policy and most fail to see it. Wonder why it’s so confusing? It’s confusing because it’s meant to be confusing! Wouldn’t want the true red blooded Sovereign Vermonters to see they are being sold down the Socialist Collectivist Centralized (the State owns your children) trap of dependence on the Federal Government.

    • Andy Davis :

      Not sure why you need to put (Obama) in every other sentence unless you believe he is the anti-christ or something. Such an ad hominem approach undermines any bit of factual argument you might be presenting. As someone involved in public education for the last 30 years as teacher, parent and town meeting representative I would say that the biggest federal incursion into the day-to-day running of our schools has been No Child Left Behind. It has undermined trust in teachers, built up a huge reliance on data to try and define outcomes and has led to a constant drum beat of “the schools are failing” – even when they are not.

      Educational leadership is an art, not a science. Making school districts bigger will not make them better or cheaper. Educational leadership, inspired teachers and families who value and support the education of their children will result in educated and productive citizens. The biggest reforms we need to make in public education do not cost money.

    • Stuart Lindberg :

      Ray,
      You have hit the nail on the head. Freedom and Liberty are under full assault by the supermajority in Montpelier and the ruling elite in Washington DC.

  15. Wayne Andrews :

    A little harsh Ray, but mostly true.

  16. Jim Christiansen :

    Single payer education with a global budget and minimum standards for care… oops, I mean minimum standards for education.

    The supervisory union administration goes away with the exception of a business manager and each principal is responsible to their community for his/her building.

    Make it so Shap.

  17. Larry Hopkins (Readsboro ) :

    Heres a little irony on funding. Last year the state’s Base Cost / Pupil was increased from $8915 to $9151 after Town Meetings. Along with that came the increase in base tax from 92c to 94c. These two items work hand in hand to fund the Ed Fund, but I am not sure Legislators are aware of that. This concept takes from your left hand and puts some back in your right hand, with the state coming out ahead. Its intended to make us feel good as we are getting something for the tax increase. Our town paid the increase of 2c but could NOT use the increase in the base cost for tax relief for being over the base because we were initially at the base. So consequently we had it taken from the left hand and nothing put back into the right. Keep in mind the states Base Cost / Pupil is supposed to be set prior to budgets being compiled. Thanks to Senator Sears, he introduced a Budget Amendment Bill (S.259) to allow changes after the state sets their numbers. Not sure where this will end up, but could be good in the future.
    Along with S.259, Sen Sears also proposed discussion on reimbursement for last years situation and the Appropriations Committee would not hear of it. Supposedly their explanation would be Readsboro would experience such a “windfall” if reimbursed that it died on the table. Now for statewide effects….there are only six (6) towns negatively impacted in 2013-2014 that would benefit by that legislation. Towns / ADMs are :Norton ( 17.31 ), Brunswick (22.88 ), Readsboro (100.51), East Haven (54.01 ), Goshen (10.7 ) and Mt Tabor (15.99)…a total of 221.4 ADMs at a reimbursable cost of $51,376 in total for the state…all shot down on the “windfall” theory /excuse as the adjustment would have dropped the tax below the minimum / student. Basically, the Appropriations Committee penalized these six (6) schools because their budgets were too low and could not see any relief because they didn’t spend enough !!!
    I doubt members of the above listed five towns even realize they were effected?
    Education Funding is complex, funny , confusing and often unfair……but when you have people making decisions who have the appearance “of deer in headlights” when asked to deal with it, they must feel “no action is better than taking action we can not understand ”
    Don’t believe the “contact your representatives”..or “contact this one or that one “…..the only person who communicated anything on this issue to me during this Session was Sen Sears….the rest wouldn’t even return a call or email.

  18. Larry Hopkins (Readsboro ) :

    This is the same group I have tried to communicate with on H.270 but nothing yet. That Legislation could have such a negative impact in our community we might have to shutdown our public Pre-K as the demand is less than the supply and ‘choice” is “poison”

  19. robby porter :

    How about this school reform idea:

    1-Consolidate all of the supervisory unions into one administered at the state level.
    2-Leave the number of schools and school boards unchanged.
    3-Allow students and parents complete school choice.
    4-Close schools/school boards where a certain percentage of students fall below proficiency standards.

    Advantages-
    1-Eliminates SU redundancy, saves money, and standardizes the implementation of legislative mandates.
    2-Local control, local civic connections remains intact, school boards are free to focus on school policy and management that is tailored to their community.
    3-Most parents seek what is best for their children, this gives everyone the ability to vote with their feet if the school is not meeting their needs.
    4-Since all schools get roughly the same funding per student, those that fail to deliver adequate education get closed. Combined with school choice, this is a fair but tough way to weed out underperforming schools. Principals and school boards and teachers would be incentivized to work together to create the best school possible.

    • Will Adams :

      How would closing schools “where a certain percentage of students fall below proficiency standards” do anything to improve student learning or reduce cost? These students would then need to go to another school (transportation costs) might very well end up in classes with larger teacher/student ratios (not great from a student learning perspective) and/or the receiving schools would have to add space to accommodate an entire new student body. This idea might do well in terms of serving the need or desire to be punitive, but it would do nothing to improve student learning opportunities.

    • Richard G Rogers :

      Excellent ideas but instead of closing schools that don’t meet standards replace the administrators responsible for making sure the standards are met.

  20. Fred Woogmaster :

    County governance could provide the construct within which to create reform without abandoning ‘local voice’ and local control; county governance not just for schools.

    Many Vermonters fear such a change – quite understandably. It might just be, however, that county governance would provide the administrative ‘glue’ while enriching (not diminishing) local participation.

    • Wendy wilton :

      Hi Fred,
      Consolidation of governance to the 16 tech centers will be nearly equivalent to County districts. See my note above if you want more info.

      • Fred Woogmaster :

        My comment relates to ALL governance; not just the field of Education, Ms. Wilton.

        Although such a conversion would be complex and challenging, future benefits could render such a major move well worthwhile.

        We have a county system in place for our courts already.

        • Wendy wilton :

          That discussion began in the waning days of the Douglas administration with the VT league of cities and towns. It could not get traction, I believe.

  21. Kenneth G. McFadden :

    If you really want things to change. Stop excepting the states pilot programs like Act 62, where they fund and then force on to the local school district to pay. Supervisory Union cost are through the roof. Every year there are added costs to their budgets for accounting to the state for lunch programs, and so on. The people we(the school district) hire are accountable us,. Not the State . We hire at a local level and fire at a local level. Just a thought!!! I could go on.

  22. Kenneth G. McFadden :

    One more quick note. I am a School Board Member and on a district consolidation committee . My district has the largest number of students in the district and lowest cost per pupil. If the consolidation goes through my taxpayers will take the brunt of all the other districts higher costs. And that’s not doing right by the taxpayers of my district. Our children will gain NOTHING and our taxes will skyrocket.

  23. Craig Kneeland :

    Any educational reform needs to improve the quality of School Board members. There are many hard-working board members who are elected because they have financial or contractual experience but have very little educational background or experience. At a minimum, school board members should have some post-secondary experience. In today’s job market, every student should be thinking about life-long learning. Every school board member should know what that means within their school district. Leave the accounting and reporting to a business manager and focus on the educational experience for our students. Even if we have to pay board members a little more money, perhaps we could get better management.

    • Wendy wilton :

      Unfortunately, there are two additional issues regarding school boards: First, it is a difficult job, and a lack of interest by the public to seek these positions often means the people serving on these boards mean well but do not understand the complexities of the financing issues. Second, it often becomes a hand-picked board by the Principal, Superintendent, or the Ed lobby so the representation of the public gets lost.
      I would argue that if the governance of schools (not schools themselves) is consolidated regionally the school board positions would be higher profile and attract better talent. Further, their actions would be more highly visible to the public and the press. Combine this with broad public school choice and parents’ choices would inform the regional governance, including the regional superintendent, what the district is doing well and what they are not. Real democracy, real local control.

  24. Ralph Colin :

    And as Wendy and a couple of others have mentioned, WHAT HAPPENS TO SCHOOL CHOICE, especicially in the 93 towns where it currently exists?

    That’s part of the hidden agenda here. It might explain why groups and individuals usually expected to oppose a proposal of this nature appear so willing to give it serious consideration now.

    There are many positive aspects to take into consideration in the proposal at hand, but if the age old existence of school choice is eliminated in those districts where it now exists, it would seem to be a net loss to the state educational governance structure than it would be a positive improvement.

    • Howard Ires :

      Strip away all the jargon and what we’re looking at is taking away control of our local schools from our local school boards (by eliminating our local school boards) and trusting the state to run our town schools. How is this supposed to improve anything? How is eliminating a thousand hard working school board members (working for basically no pay) going to help our schools and our kids?

  25. Peter Gregg :

    It took about one year for five town school boards to consolidate two supervisory unions into one new Twin Rivers Supervisory Union. This new union increased student opportunities by consolidating services while saving tax payer dollars. Local control remained. What I am observing here is a feigned attempt on the part of our legislators to give new names to old problems and suggest no promises even after years of study. Campaign For Vermont has a good first step non invasive plan that should be considered and implemented quickly, it will save millions of dollars… Twin River SU saved approx. $500,000.

    • Fred Woogmaster :

      Although it may be true, your statement, Mr. Lindberg sounds like a bit of an exaggeration.

      “The majority of politicians making decisions about how and where parents should educate their children chose to send their own children to private schools. Yet they have the audacity to deny the rest of us school choice.”

      I am sympathetic with your point of view. Can you support that statement?

  26. Stuart Lindberg :

    The history of big government saving the taxpayers money is laughable. Vermont has a broken education funding mechanism. This is the real problem. The solution is to scrap ACT 60/68 and go back to a foundation system where local towns raise and control their own money to pay for education. Each school should be run by their own locally elected board with no supervisory unions and no state agency of education micromanaging every aspect of daily operations. The agency of education should be turned into a warehouse for vital statistics employing no more than 4 people. Full school choice, private, public and parochial should allowed. The governor should not have one word to say about our children’s education. The majority of politicians making decisions about how and where parents should educate their children chose to send their own children to private schools. Yet they have the audacity to deny the rest of us school choice.

  27. Rick Thorpe :

    Have spent many years on a schoolboard in a very small district with a small elementary school and choice for high school.Our commumity and the school community have taken our school from one of the bottom preforming schools in the state right into the top 10 schools in the state according to the NECAP results. Every year we keep our budget increase to less than 5%, this year it has increased 1.7%. Yet every year we deal with a large increase in the towns property taxes. For the first several years it was our home appraisals as our CLA constanly climbed in the double digits. This year it is a 7.4% increase in the statewide property tax rate. The local boards take this very seriously but it seems like no matter how hard you try you are completely outdone by Montpelier. Where is all of this extra money going to? That is the question we need to ask, I have not heard a viable answer to that question.

  28. Stuart Lindberg :

    “Lawmakers hold the Burlington school district up as a model. There, one board manages a pre-K to 12th grade public school system for 4,000 students.”

    Correct me if I am wrong but Burlington’s school budget has gone from 30 million dollars in 2008 to 63 million dollars in 2014. If lawmakers think this is the model for school governance then the rest of Vermont is screwed. Johanna Donovan (D), the chair of the House Education Committee represents Burlington in the legislature. She is THE major supporter of restructuring school governance in Vermont.

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