Voluntary school consolidation bill dies in House

A much-amended education governance bill did not survive the clock Saturday in Montpelier.

After H.876 made it through the Senate, a majority of House members voted not to suspend procedural rules to take up the legislation in time for the evening’s scheduled adjournment.

Any similar effort to introduce school governance reforms will have to start fresh during the next legislative session, under a new lineup of lawmakers who win office in the fall.

The governance reform initiative — a response to continued increases in education property tax rates — gained momentum after Town Meeting Day, when 36 school districts rejected proposed budgets.

House members, reasoning that consolidation would make education more efficient, voted to merge Vermont’s 270-plus school district boards into roughly 50 new supervisory district boards over six years.

It was a no-go in the Senate, where lawmakers instead tacked a much diluted, voluntary consolidation plan onto the annual bill that carries miscellaneous changes to education laws.

The process took longer than the session’s stated deadline allowed, however. And there wasn’t enough support in the House — among any party — to push it through.

Sensing the legislation might not make it, Sen. Jane Kitchel, D-Caledonia, on Friday asked the budget committee of conference to include a couple other education segments from the miscellaneous education bill in the budget.

They agreed to appropriate $50,000 of established Next Generation funds to help low-income students enrolled in dual enrollment programs. Kitchel said many students are discouraged from pursuing the dual enrollment opportunity because they can’t afford the text books, lab fees or transportation to get to college classes.

The special fund is designed to help with those ancillary costs. It is available only on first-come, first-served basis until the money is gone. The Vermont Student Assistance Corp. will establish criteria for participation.

VSAC is also authorized through the budget to spend $100,000 to develop an “aspirational pilot initiative” at one or more high schools.

Kitchel described the target schools as those where a small percentage of graduates pursue higher education and where few parents of students have experience with higher education. The program will work with students to build and guide higher ed aspirations.

Hilary Niles

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8 Comments on "Voluntary school consolidation bill dies in House"

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Don Webster
1 year 9 months ago

I suggest that voluntary v. mandatory is not the essence of the disagreement between the two bodies. Rather it is the role and value of local school boards in the education of our children. The House with 75/votes decided that they would eliminate them as not that important while the senate views them to be very important.

Kim Fried
1 year 9 months ago

Thank goodness, our smaller schools will survive another year. The children won this round.

Anne Donahue
1 year 9 months ago

“A majority of House members voted not to suspend procedural rules…” is not correct. It takes a 3/4 vote to suspend rules, thus a minority of members voting no can still mean that regular process (instead of fast tracking) must be upheld. In this case, in which a voice vote was used, the speaker determined the vote failed because a 3/4 majority of “yes” votes was not reached, rather than because a majority voted “no.” The difference it important when one realizes how it is possible to rush major legislation into law with little time for deliberation by simply suspending… Read more »

victor ialeggio
1 year 9 months ago

RIP H876 atque S91.
Now, Legislators, head home to your constituents, convene public hearings over the summer and listen carefully. State-wide structural change is dearly needed — but let the folks at home send you back next January with choices and alternatives based on transparent (ah, that word), informed discussion.

1 year 9 months ago

I was wrong, and I’m happy I was. My working assumption for this spring was Vermont’s legislature was going to pass some form of mandatory school governance change come hell or high water. With the official close of the legislative biennium comes some welcome news: it didn’t happen … at least for now. And that “for now” is the problem. Unfortunately local school boards will be hampered in long term planning, and instead we are left playing the guessing game of what to do and who to do it with. Personally I think punting the question of top down mandated… Read more »

John Freitag
1 year 9 months ago

Let’s be clear here . School governance consolidation has no demonstrable cost savings and that should not be used as a smoke screen for getting rid of local school boards. The fact is although the Governor and others publicly complain about the property tax rate, this session a number of unfunded mandates were once again dumped, you guessed it on the property tax. This includes new money for the teachers retirement health benefits a chronically underfunded state benefit that was never intended to come from property taxes . Also the very worthy universal pre-kindergarten has no designated funding source, so… Read more »

Bill Storz
1 year 9 months ago

Rama, I certainly hope the VSBA revisits its supportive position regarding bills such as H 883. The quasi supportive position taken this spring was a preemptive compromise, driven by fear of what might be done if we were not “part of the conversation”. Ironically, or not, by being “part of the conversation” VSBA gave House Ed much political cover to pursue a ridiculous and destructive piece of legislation. For what? It is time for VSBA to rethink its position on this, and stop giving the Chittenden-centric and ill informed group that is House Ed fuel for their shell game, pretending… Read more »

1 year 9 months ago

Hi Bill, Note: my comments below are my own personal statement, and I am not in any representing the following as the views of any other individual or organization (including the VSBA). I was certainly an advocate for the position that the legislature was likely to make some dramatic changes in school governance, and while I am glad I was wrong I have no regrets and believe that was the prudent and appropriate tack. I have no idea what my future stance will be come the next legislative session – I will wait to see what I feel is the… Read more »

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