Historic changes to structure of Vermont school system approved by House panel

House Education Committee Chairwoman Johannah Donovan, D-Burlington, said the State Board of Education would play an advisory role under the new structure. Photo by Josh Larkin.
House Education Committee Chairwoman Johannah Donovan, D-Burlington, said the State Board of Education would play an advisory role under the new structure. File photo by Josh Larkin/VTDigger.

A Vermont House panel has overwhelmingly approved a bill that would create sweeping changes to the way Vermont schools are governed. H.883 would reduce the total number of municipal school districts from 282 to 45 by 2020.

If the legislation is successful (it has to pass the House and the Senate), it will be the first time the state’s home rule structure has changed since 1892 when the state went from 2,500 local school boards to a total of 300.

Members of the House Education Committee approved the bill in a 10-0-1 vote on Friday, despite pushback from colleagues in the House, substantial resistance from members of the Senate and the potential for an uphill public relations battle in school districts around the state.

Republicans and Democrats alike on the Education Committee are satisfied that the legislation, which they spent weeks revising, taking testimony on and arguing over, will improve educational opportunities for children and perhaps save money, particularly in areas of the state where student enrollments have declined precipitously over the last 15 years. (The average decline statewide is 20 percent.)

Rep. Larry Cupoli, R-Rutland, says the legislation will “do a lot of good for a lot of people, especially small schools.”

“Kids will have more opportunities, and it may even benefit taxpayers,” Cupoli said.

Proponents of the bill, including Rep. Johanna Donovan, D-Burlington, who has pushed hard for the legislation, says H.883 will “increase opportunities for students” and “bend the curve in education spending.”

Rural school districts have fewer and fewer students and less opportunity for quality educational opportunities, Donovan said. “We don’t want to go back to the one-room schoolhouse,” she said. “We want to optimize learning and see what we can do by being innovative.”

H.883 would eliminate the state’s 60 existing supervisory union districts and require the formation of expanded regional school districts with one board, no fewer than 1,200 students and at least four municipal districts. Under the plan, each municipality would have a representative that would serve on a regional district board. Currently, many supervisory union districts have many fewer students (500 to 800 is not uncommon) and serve as a loose confederation of five to seven separate boards.

Vermont has the lowest student to school board member ratio in the nation: One school board member for 57 students.

The expansion of pre-K to 12th grade districts could result in the elimination of layers of administrative bureaucracy, better accountability, more flexibility for staff, new uses for buildings, the development of thematic learning modules and an opportunity to combine resources for accounting and special education, lawmakers say. It could also make it possible for school districts to afford teachers with specialities in Arabic, Chinese and the sciences.

Districts that have had difficulty attracting school board members and a superintendent who is willing to oversee five to seven different school boards would also have an opportunity to stabilize district leadership, according to lawmakers and consolidation advocates. This year the state will have 15 superintendent vacancies and 30 percent turnover among principals, Donovan says.

The downside is a loss of local control. Town school district boards would no longer have direct control over budget and program decisions made at their local school. At a public hearing last week, members of the public and school board members said they didn’t want to cede local authority to a regional board.

Private schools, which have been an integral part of the state’s system, are wary about what role they will play in the new expanded school districts.

There is also grave concern about the potential for school closures in rural areas where the elementary school serves as the community center.

Montpelier residents rejected a proposed $17,985,069 school budget by 81 votes on Town Meeting Day, March 4, 2014. Photo by John Herrick/VTDigger
Montpelier residents rejected a proposed $17,985,069 school budget by 81 votes on Town Meeting Day, March 4, 2014. Photo by John Herrick/VTDigger

Donovan recognizes that combining school districts can be a heavy lift. It is a “very, very emotional issue, and people can get stuck on things,” she said.

But she says the state needs to develop a modern delivery system that improves education. Too few students are going into post-secondary programs, she said, and employers can’t find the workers they need in Vermont. “We want kids coming out of public schools to be ready,” Donovan said.

Many low wage jobs have disappeared or have gone overseas, and lawmakers are concerned that in the future, unless the educational system changes, Vermont students will not be able to obtain the range of skills they need to find meaningful work and adapt to a rapidly shifting economy. If the state doesn’t address this problem, growing inequality could cripple the state’s economy, according to the legislation.

With the advent of globalization, societal changes and enormous technological advances, students must acquire “21st century” skills, according to the legislation. The legislation lays out those skills, which include the ability to “innovate, adapt, handle nonroutine problems, reason with evidence, synthesize and analyze complex data, work confidently with technology, collaborate in teams and communicate effectively through a variety of media.”

“We understand that a change in governance alone will not yield better outcomes for students,” the bill states. “We believe, however, that a strong supervisory district structure will make it possible for our schools to collaborate, share resources and work systematically to provide more opportunities and higher quality instruction for our children. We believe that the current structure, with its substantial inequalities, multiple small governing units and conflicting lines of authority makes it too difficult for our schools to work together coherently to support our ambitious goals for our students.”

Like Act 48, the single-payer bill, H.883 also sets a timeframe with a series of deadlines for local school boards and the Agency of Education to determine how to draw new district lines based on historical precedent, geography and other factors.

“Part of this is having a date certain when this can happen and try to build in supports to give local school boards the help we need,” Donovan said.

The legislation sets aside $4 million for legal, accounting and organizational support for school board districts across the state.

Politically, H.883 has a rough road ahead, though in the wake of 35 school budget defeats earlier this month, a number of lawmakers say the current system is financially unsustainable.

Still, the legislation has to pass through a double gauntlet in the General Assembly before the end of the biennium in early May, otherwise lawmakers will have to start over next January.

It’s not clear how many House members, especially those in the Democratic majority, oppose the bill, but Donovan says her committee will be making a concerted effort to meet with colleagues in the House this week. Many people, she said, are fearful about how the changes will affect their districts and she and the Education Committee members want to answer their questions.

“I think members of my committee are going to reach out to colleagues and discuss their openness to the question and concerns,” Donovan said. “It is my hope that out of these conversations we will make people understand this is not limiting student opportunity, this is not limiting local control.”

Rep. Martha Heath, D-Westford, chair of House Appropriations and a longtime school board member, said her community voted against a voluntary district merger “big time” because the consolidation would have resulted in less representation and higher costs. It also would have ended school choice in Westford, she said. (The Agency of Education told her district that offering public school choice for some students and not others was unconstitutional.)

Though Heath has grave concerns about H.883, she says she is willing to listen to the committee’s proposal.

House Speaker Shap Smith spoke in support of a bill to increase the role of the Department of Public Service’s public advocate during a news conference at the Statehouse Monday, Jan. 6, 2014. Photo by John Herrick/VTDigger
House Speaker Shap Smith. Photo by John Herrick/VTDigger

House Speaker Shap Smith supports the proposal, and he is giving Donovan and her committee more time to pitch H.883 to lawmakers before the bill comes to the floor of the House.

“The bill acknowledges that we live in the 21st century, not the 19th century,” Smith says.

Smith says there is more momentum behind district mergers now, and he believes people will be more willing to talk about changes and be open about what change looks like. “We have to harness that energy and see where it goes,” Smith said. “We know the system is not sustainable and while we are getting quality it’s not the best quality it could be.”

“There are a lot of people with legitimate concerns about change,” Smith said. “Our challenge in the leadership is to figure out ways to make people comfortable with change as we move forward.”

Even if H.883 passes the House, lawmakers on the Senate Education Committee are not anxious to move the bill forward. Sen. Dick McCormack, D-Windsor, says he is “agnostic” about the bill and at this point he is non-committal about the fate of its passage in his committee.

“Theoretically, I could be convinced, but I have big questions,” McCormack said. “Why are we doing this at all? This initiative is subject to mission creep.”

McCormack says the legislation appears to be a response to taxpayer dissatisfaction, and yet lawmakers say it has nothing to do with money and it’s about improving education quality. He says he doesn’t know which problem the legislation is meant to address, nor is he sure whether there is public support.

“Is it just rearranging the furniture, or does the public really want it?”

The Vermont-NEA is less than enthusiastic about H.883. Joel Cook, executive director of the union, says he has testified 30 times on similar proposals over the last several decades.

In written testimony, Cook reiterated his belief that it is important to maintain local control. “The extent those of us with a statewide perspective fail to take local community interests sufficiently into account, governance change plans fail,” Cook wrote. “They may fail anyway because of local community interests.”

Cook also says that the proposal includes “nothing convincing” about expanded educational opportunities.

Finally, the Vermont-NEA disagrees that school spending is unsustainable. Cook argues that “growth in expenditures, notwithstanding the declining student enrollment is commensurate with inflation and demands placed on public education by the federal government and the state.”

In 2013, the state’s public school system, which educates about 80,000 students, cost $1.127 billion, according to Bill Talbott, the chief financial officer for the Agency of Education.

Details of H.883:

The legislation creates a “legal and fiscal research group” charged with addressing issues relating to voting and representation on school boards, operating and nonoperating districts, tax rates and procedures for voting on district-wide budgets. The group must present options to the General Assembly for legislative action by Jan. 1, 2015.

Districts will be given the option to voluntarily realign into an expanded district and can apply to become a regional education district with the State Board of Education before July 1, 2016. Voters must approve the expanded districts by July 1, 2017.

A design team will monitor the voluntary realignment of districts and design a statewide plan for remaining districts. The team will work with school boards, solicit public input and incorporate performance indicators and information from the legal and research groups in the development of the plan. Final approval of the statewide plan must occur by July 1, 2018.

All expanded districts shall begin operation by July 1, 2020.

Editor’s note: This story was updated at 6:38 a.m.

Correction: Heath was referring to public school choice, not private school choice.

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Anne Galloway

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  • John Freitag

    I do not recall any legislator running for election with the intent of elimination of our local school boards. This bill has no demonstrable cost savings or evidence that consolidation will improve the education we provide our children. At the very least politicians who favor this radical restructuring of our educational system should before passing a bill , be willing to explain to the voters before the nest election why they think this fundamental change is needed. John Frietag

  • Wayne Andrews

    Another good example of liberal thinking. Vote today, and save my immediate butt, to have a law go into effect in 2020 when the legislator is under grass facing east..

  • Scott Beaudin

    Does it seem odd to anyone else that the same citizenry that is deathly afraid of the State making their school decisions and eliminating hundreds of school board members, is the same citizenry that seems willing to give the State and a five member board control of its health care?

    • Jim Christiansen

      Some might consider that a logical observation.

    • Wendy wilton

      Excellent point, Scott.

  • Jamie Carter

    This seems to be change for the sake of making change.

    The Legislature realizes that its time to change our educations system. But they don’t have a clue as to how to change it and what actual outcomes they are trying to achieve. So they go with the same tired idea that has been bandied around for decades.

    They will promote that they enacted change, tout it as bold and historic, but in the end it is the same tired idea that has never been enacted despite being discussed for eons.

    Why has it never been enacted before? Because it isn’t a good idea. It makes a lot of changes with no real beneficial outcomes. It doesn’t further local control, but rather diminishes it. It doesn’t bring educational spending under control, it may bring meager initial savings at best. It does nothing to increase education quality, at least nothing that can’t be done now.

    So why are we doing it again? Because the legislature needs to make changes, they just don’t have the mental capacity to think out side the box nor do they have the political will to make the bold changes that will in fact lower costs, increase educational quality, and make education more affordable for Vermonters.

    We need new ideas in Montpelier and that means we need new people.

  • Wayne Andrews

    The main reason why the Principals and Superintendents are leaving is due to the uncertainty of their jobs. This uncertainty comes from the Dept of Education and the Vermont Legislature.
    Any school district worth their salt are only hiring for short term commitments and those receiving those jobs are mealy doing so for stepping stone purposes.
    The driving force in this is student decline so even our legislature reversely admit our attitude toward business is bad in Vermont for they feel this path we have taken will not change by 2020 the year this bill should take effect.

  • Skip Woodruff


  • Tom Pelham

    It’s notable that the Vermont School Boards Association (VSBA) was not asked to, or chose not to, weigh in on this matter that threatens their very existence.

    As Governor Dean’s Finance Commissioner during the development of Act 60, a member of the legislature’s Appropriations Committee during the passage of Act 68 (I voted against Act 68 because it did not contained effective cost controls), Tax Commissioner for the Douglas administration during the initial roll-out of Act 68 and an eight year member of a local school board, the issue of cost effective school governance has been of frequent concern. Over these years, I’ve seen very little data that points to small school districts as a core problem with regard to the educational outcomes for our children or the high cost of Vermont’s educational system.

    Broadly, statistical analysis conducted jointly by the Tax and Education Departments in 2006 found no statistical relationship between student assessment scores and school district size. Further, the more recent Picus Report, commissioned by the legislature, offered insight into successful school districts, large and small. The eleven key variables Picus found as “the pathway for producing increases in learning for all students, regardless of their family background” were qualities such as educator talent, professional school culture, and strong leadership. Notably, school district size was not among them. Picus also found, “In addition to our findings pertaining to those eleven key themes, we also note that all five schools had significant outreach to parents and the community, and sought as much parent involvement in the school as possible.” Large school districts and parent involvement are not a friendly mix.

    The above does not mean the status quo is the best we can do. Vermont’s traditional school districts can be sustained, but must change to do so. Vermont’s high and still growing per pupil spending is a problem that can erode support for our schools and must be addressed. Local school districts must find a better balance of sharing power within a larger, more regional, management structure where the roles of school districts and the roles of the regional management structure are crystal clear and well defined. Regional budgeting and revenue raising, transportation management, teacher contract negotiations, special education collaborations, the purchasing of supplies and equipment, consolidation of AP classes, and the assignment of leadership talent, among others can all be more cost effectively done at a regional level. However, local school districts should retain control of areas most important to local parents and students, such as the hiring and assignment of talent, managing the school schedule, nurturing a positive school culture, ensuring school facilities are in good repair, overseeing contract implementation and teacher evaluations, and representing the district at the regional level.

    If the Vermont School Boards Association takes a powerful leadership role in this important conversation, the evisceration of Vermont’s school districts as envisioned by the House Education Committee can be avoided. As a template for change, Campaign for Vermont’s proposal Putting Children First is much better aligned with the values of school boards and local control than the House proposal.

    • Jack Ewell

      Tom Pelham says in a few paragraphs, with hard data all Representative Donavan, Speaker Smith and the rest of the legislature need to know about the low value of this legislation. If Donovan and Montpelier were serious about improving educational quality and managing cost, they would stop outsourcing the financing of education to communities and acknowledge the States primary constitutional role of providing education and for finance. Once they do this all silly talk about district consolidation can give way to more serious things mentioned by Mr. Pelham likely to have real and substantive impact on educational quality. For Ms. Donavan to say this bill will do nothing to control costs at a time when every school district struggles to finance education at the local level, and the State of Vermont continues a death spiral attempting to fund teacher pensions and health care benefits for teachers in retirement, is simply unbelievable.

    • Dan Carver


      You mention how the VT School Board Association was not brought into this discussion, yet from their website you find A Situational Analysis of Public Education in Vermont: 2013. They highlight on slide # 33, the extremely high number of school districts Vermont has in relationship to the number of students compared to our regional sister states.

      Additionally, if you listen to the accompanying audio, their analysis points out (a.) average teacher pay is lower than other New England states, yet Vermont has more teachers per pupil and (b.) our cost per pupil is driven up by non-teacher compensation.

      Their analysis is a reporting of their findings and the analysis does not endorse a solution. H883 is action driven from the VT School Boards analysis as it will reduce non-teaching compensation (significant value) and reduce the gross stipends paid to board members (assume to be immaterial) in an area that does not touch Special Education.

      Note: H883 represents action the state can take to address cost and align ourselves with standard practices. During voting season, many people clamor to the slogan “less students, yet higher costs” our Governor being the most well-known advocate of the expression. Administration is a fixed cost at each district. Addressing this cost, which will increase on a per pupil basis as enrollment declines, yet retaining local school facilities, makes good old Yankee sense?

      We’ve been in the existing model for 122 years. It was created long before Vermonters had cars, phones, radios, paved roads and indoor plumbing. It’s time for some change and this bill will provide some modest cost reductions to ease tax payers and have no expressed negative impact on students. Unless you believe the legislature has the political will to radically change Special Education, the major driver of cost increase per student, this is THE best alternative and now it is on the table.
      Thanks for listening and for your past and current contributions,


      • Tom Pelham

        Hi Dan….My comment regarding the VSBA was specific to this VTDigger article. It seemed odd to me that an article about diminishing the power of school boards did not include a VSBA perspective. I fear that the voice of the VSBA, to its detriment, is losing its independence and being muted by the peer pressure of the state house crowd.

        Rep. Donovan is selling her plan premised on the expectation that education quality will be improved. I say prove it. As noted in my comment above, the preponderance of the data I’ve seen over the years does not demonstrate that education quality is enhanced in relation to school district size. The data I saw in 2006, which was comprehensive, and in the more recent Picus Report, which was selective, showed that small districts can achieve high levels of student outcomes at relatively low costs while others achieved poor outcome for students at relatively high costs. Bottom line is that small school districts can achieve high outcomes at relatively low costs.

        Certainly some small school districts have become woefully unaffordable, yet the current system props them up. The fact that 104 of Vermont’s school districts, or over 40 percent, get small school grants demonstrates that these grants may be more political plums rather than sound investments in education. These grants should be focused on school districts with no opportunity to consolidate with neighboring districts due to distance constraints. Over time, some small school districts will have to face the reality that the end is near; but this should be a local, bottom-up decision rather than a top-down mandate by the state.

        The data is readily available for Rep. Donovan to prove her contention. She should ask the Agency of Education to conduct statistical analysis that compares student outcomes (NECAP, SAT’s, etc.) to school enrollment levels and spending per pupil profiles. By spending per pupil, I mean spending per ADM and not “education spending” per “equalized pupil”, which is an artifice of state law and not a true economic profile of costs. Let’s see what the data reveals in support of her representations!

        Rep. Donovan clearly has low expectations as to the potential for her proposal to save money. My observation is that this is a battle of quality over quantity. Yes our teacher salaries are below the national average and the Picus report, among other studies, reveals that educator talent is a top requirement for strong student outcomes. So, let’s embrace that concept and make sure we have top talent in our schools and pay the salaries necessary in this regard. But let’s also make sure that our system is based upon a pay for performance foundation rather than the current seniority system now rigidly in place. The trade for top talent at higher pay vs. a lower pupil to teacher ratio is in the best interest of both students and taxpayers. Such a change of emphasis along with economies of scale via regionalization of certain management functions can save tens of millions.

        Regarding special education, I agree this should be a focus of cost containment. Past audits of this programmatic area reveal that school districts and supervisory unions poorly manage this resource. These audits showed there is little backbone in our education infrastructure to manage these costs relative to basic federal standards of does the child have a disability and is the child’s academic performance outside established norms, for example. Yes, special education is a mandate, but strong regional oversight of these expenditures can keep them within acceptable norms, especially with the decline in student populations.

        Bottom line is that we are in a period of change and such change should be data driven and not based on emotion or superficial spin. Vermont’s tradition of local control of educating Vermont’s children should only be undermined if the data reveals that student outcomes and cost containment can only be achieved otherwise. I fear the VSBA is being seduced by the politics under the golden dome rather than by what’s in the best interest of students and taxpayers.

        • Dan Carver


          Thank you for the insights and perspective.


        • Jack Ewell

          Eight years ago the 2006 Kavet Report commissioned by the VBR and LCRCC provided quantifiable data on education cost and quality issues and fired the first warning shot about declining student enrollment and looming cost control challenges. We have not been short on good data so much as we have suffered from questionable or political interpretation and presentation of data by interest groups from all sides. Politicians talk about quality tools in education such as pay for performance, and other delivery models, but can those tools ever get out of the toolbox in the collective bargaining process? Things like distance learning, and shared resources have been talked about for 25 years. I worked as an administrator in a high school that provided distance learning to students in 1995. Few high school students were interested in the impersonal instruction model supported by technology and it was much less efficient as it required oversight and involvement of a teacher or paraprofessional for a class of just 1 or 2 students. I would think people close to education would also remember that “consolidation” first occurred almost 20 years ago when large supervisory districts comprised of 4-5 individual town schools tried to reduce redundancy in administration, policy development and management of support services through a centralized model of governance and administration. It was not pretty. Rarely did it produce any measureable savings for taxpayers. Participant schools circumvented anything they did not like. The only thing it did accomplish was to make the job of Superintendent within the consolidated entity nearly impossible to perform. To this day, the lack of interest in the Superintendent position in Supervisory Union Districts is a legacy of this consolidation. I wish I didn’t feel so pessimistic but its been a long time since “A Nation at Risk” and legislation like H. 883 suggests we are still circling the target and developing policy to the exclusion of data. Leaves me to wonder who is informing Representative Donavan?

    • John Smith

      I think you make some good points; however I think this law is in fact a step in the right direction. The benefits are being explained incorrectly; consolidating school districts will allow small schools to share resources, most importantly teachers. This legislation will not solve the problem of increased per pupil spending resulting from smaller enrollment, rather it will enable consolidated districts to make effective decisions allocating resources to achieve this goal, at the same time increasing options for students in small districts. Your numbers are showing the difference between small districts and large districts, however these numbers are not comparing apples to apples. A good example of potential savings through consolidation can be seen in Addison county; you have three different district schools within a 15 minute drive of one another. The student to teacher ratio is roughly 9-1 if you consolidate these districts you could share teachers between the schools, increase the class size(lowering costs), and offer a better variety of classes for students(yes that means less teachers). Currently school districts do not communicate with one another, or share any resources, this is incredibly inefficient. You need to compare a district before consolidation, and after, not just compare a large district to a small one. Another benefit to this bill is increasing the voting population behind the school board. Small districts just don’t have enough interested parties to generate a good result when voting, with the small numbers of voters we have in each district showing up to vote one interested party can have a significant impact that may not be in the best interest of the voting population. You throw in the fact that 70% of Vermonters pay property taxes based on income reducing the incentive for people participate for the purpose of cost savings, and you have the problem we have today. We need larger groups of interested parties for more accurate representation and better results, both for our students and our taxpayers. To do this you need to consolidate the voting blocks of small districts.

  • Seth Henry

    This decision and vote by the committee is disturbing on many levels. First and foremost the legislature continues to conflate the public frustration with spending and tax problems with a purported desire to hand over local school control to Montpelier. I have yet to meet or hear from a private citizen who believes consolidation is the solution and that Montpelier can make it work. However, it seems widely and generally accepted in the public that the incredibly poor implementation of act 60/68 combined with expensive education mandates are driving high spending levels yet the legislative leadership refuses to touch these issues.

    Also disturbing is the legislature’s pattern of legislating an outcome without a real plan. In the real world decision are made by creating a detailed budget and plan and then professionally assessing the feasibility and risk. Think about how a venture capital firm invests, a bank makes a loan or a restaurant chooses a new location. In the VT legislature the ‘club’ decides what they want to happen, makes a law demanding it regardless of cost, risk and feasibility and hopes a plan will be formed by some magical community consensus while they sit back and watch. In their minds their job is done – victory declared. We have recently seen in Health Care how much they actually contribute to implementation as they can’t even hold themselves accountable to their own dates and deliverables. We have also seen this in act 60/68 where they refuse to even look at the real numbers resulting form their last education ‘science project’.

    All this said I am not an opponent of consolidation in general. As it stands our school districts have every right to consolidate and if the house committee has done real planning and study on how this should be done I believe they should publish their finding so school boards can do their jobs and assess their voluntary consolidation options prior to 2020. Having done that I believe the legislature should then focus its attention on another consolidation challenge I see. It has similar dynamics – low ratios of representation to constituents, a lack of qualified applicants, highly variable performance and runaway spending. Of course I am talking about the legislature itself. How about we cut their ranks by about 2/3?m Just sayin’…..

  • Janice Prindle

    This is appalling. I hope it gets the attention it deserves in the mainstream media, and that the public reaction will send a strong message to stop this bill moving through the full House and Senate. There should be pushback, big time. It won’t save money.

    That said, the comments of other posters blaming liberals and an allegedly bad business climate for this move are beyond right field and into the bleachers, stuck in the litter. Consolidation and state control have actually been pushed by business groups and wealthy individuals like Bill Gates of Common Core. This is not a liberal agenda.

    • Kathy Nelson

      Janice, Bill Gates created Common Core as a process to produce a standard worker/laborer drone. Gates himself has sent his two children to the same private school that produced his megalomaniac self where Common Core is not welcome. If you’re wealthy enough your kids can get the opportunity to explore their potential in education, if not then they can at least hope to achieve a standard to maintain their peasant status. I suppose Wayne Andrews would call that good for business.
      If you want to see an example of Common Core absurdity check this out:

      • Bill Gates did not write the Common Core State Standards – unless you have some genuine evidence that he did.

        I also would like to point out that the number hopping exercise you (and apparently a self proclaimed electrical engineer) find so absurd is actually a process designed to help kids work out math problems in their heads. Far from being absurd it is designed to, and actually does, increase numbers based thinking.

        I’ve heard it generally referred to as “number sense” – you should investigate how you calculate equations. For example take any two numbers (such as 427 and 116) and think through the steps you take when using nothing but your mind you subtract 116 from 427.

    • Karl Riemer

      says you.
      Mr. Webster says a liberal agenda strives for a generous, open-minded, even-handed society through governmental flexibility and experimentation, as opposed to strict deference to precedent. Trying new strategies to achieve better results is by definition liberal. Intransigent opposition to change (beautifully illustrated by the exquisitely irrational NO…NO… comment, of which the others are mere paraphrase) is by definition reactionary conservatism. There’s no inherent right/wrong good/evil dichotomy, you go ahead and believe whatever you believe, but leave the language intact. Fondly held presuppositions don’t constitute license to mislabel.

      Vermont today is paved with pious, obdurate, earnest conservatives who, because they supported civil rights and opposed the war a half-century ago still want to think themselves liberal.

  • Ben Eastwood

    There is no demonstrable improvement by making these changes. The problem is folks in charge are too hung up on cutting spending, while ignoring improving services…
    This is a bad idea, and does nothing new, but I stead of trying to gently tap the square pegs into round holes, it now takes a sledgehammer to our kids education.
    The reason for the missing school superintendents? The state has told districts not to hire full time replacements, and nobody will step up without job security.
    The current model IS broken, and it either needs a complete overhaul, or it needs to be scrapped and replaced with a system that fits Vermont kids better. By struggling to meet federal testing requirements, we have sacrificed our childrens education for too long.
    Further distancing of parents from school control is the opposite of progress, and is not an improvement for our kids. We need to find ways to get communities MORE involved in the process, not impose more roadblocks to our people.

  • Kathy Nelson

    A bill that could make it possible to hire teachers of Arabic and Chinese? Why? So schoolgirls can learn why they should be wearing burkas and the rest of us can learn the language of communist corruption? Get real.
    The purpose of this is to diminish local/municipal control. It isn’t like it hasn’t happened before. VT is a state infected by Dillon”s obsolete rule, which removes local control by communities and grants it to a corporate controlled legislature. Just look at what Sections 248 and 246 have done to prevent local people from having a say in locating extremely destructive energy projects in their towns.
    It’s way past time for the sheeple to say ENOUGH! Each town in VT should be working to implement a municipal rights ordinance of its own and should also be working to eliminate Dillon’s rule (which is nothing but a twisted idea from an arrogant elitist who never finished law school and whose family ties bought him a judgeship).
    It’s 2014 people and time to make changes in Montpelier. In 2016 we can do even better by starting to dump Republicans and Democrats out of DC.

  • Wayne Andrews

    Let me clarify my earlier post without my morning coffee. What I meant to say was due to a bad business climate in Vermont, there are less jobs. Less jobs means less families. Less families means less children in our school and vacant buildings.

  • Martha Manning

    This could be a phenomenal idea if it was coupled with reducing the number of supervisory districts at the same time. There are way too many supervisory districts in the state. If you could reduce the number of superintendents and their respective staffs then you could see considerable savings of tax dollars. With modern technology there is no reason why a superintendent can not be connected to multiple school boards to monitor questions or comment on issues. Consolidate the number of school boards yes – but reduce the number of superintendent absolutely!!!

    • Karl Riemer

      If you read the article, it proposes reducing the number of supervisory union districts to zero. Is that sufficiently absolutely?

  • John Glasserman

    This idea is way past due. It actually doesn’t go far enough. For the population size that our education system is required to serve, there should be ONE statewide district.

    When I was a child (1960s) in public school, I lived in the Miami, Florida (Dade County), area. In some way, the entire school system of Dade County was managed by a seven member school board.

    This school system included approximately 15 high schools along with scores of junior high and elementary schools. At that time, the population of Dade County was approximately 1,000,000. (Yes, 50 years ago, the population of that one county was 50% greater than today’s entire Vermont population!)

    A bit of research has demonstrated that the modern-day Miami-Dade County school board has grown to nine members. The number of high schools now stands at more than 50. There are hundreds of middle and elementary schools.

    The population served by this school system totaled just under 2,500,000 in 2010. That is over four times the population of the entire state of Vermont.

    Tell me again why we need so many administrations and administrators to run our education system.

    • David Schoales

      Take a look at Dade County achievement scores for your answer.

  • If one would turn over control of their children to the State, the State will take control of ones children. If one would turn over control of their childs education to the State, corporations will educate ones child, specifically for the benefit of the corporation. Ones child today is being shaped and indoctrinated into the matrix of collectivism and “trained” to bow down to corporate and Government. Sift out those children with the “highest score” who are best “trained” and most compliant and they will make good corporate types and Government employees. So, in the future, ones child will work for State, corporate or grovel at the feet of Government for each and every need.

  • Stu Lindberg

    H. 833, the school governance restructuring bill was approved unanimously by the House education committee. This bill is a disaster in the making. Lawmakers hold out Burlington’s school governance as a model for the rest of Vermont to follow. So what is it that is so special about Burlington’s school governance that is so exemplary. Is it Burlington’s efficient use of tax payer dollars? Probably not. Burlington’s school budget has gone from $37 million dollars in 2008 to $63 million in 2013. Johanna Donovan (D) is the chair of the Vermont House education committee. She represents Burlington in the Vermont legislature. She is leading the charge to get rid of local school boards in order to improve educational “outcomes” for students. So what are the “outcomes” of Miss Donovan’s Burlington school district. 64% of Burlington’s 11 graders are below proficient in the NECAP Math testing. 72% are below proficient in science, 54% are below proficient in writing and 38% are below proficient in reading. In old school terminology “below proficient” means “failing.“ So what does Burlington’s school governance model have to offer? Big budgets, big spending and poor results. This is the model the rest of Vermont should follow? Shap Smith (D) Speaker of the Vermont house of representatives says that Vermont’s century old school governance model is outdated and needs to be updated so “we don’t leave Vermont’s children behind.” Sounds good Mr. Speaker but if Burlington is the model Vermont’s Democratic supermajority wants the rest of us to follow than you can be assured most of our children will be left behind.
    As for Ms. Donovan, in her own words, says she is “one of the greatest opponents of school choice in the legislature“, yet she herself attended a private school. “Why is it Ms. Donovan’s business, or any politicians, to be involved with the outcome of my child’s education?
    The “outcome” of my child’s education belongs to me, my child and their teachers. If you don’t like what the legislature is doing with our schools then call your local state representative and tell them NO on restructuring school governance. Remember there is an election in November. Your vote can make a difference.

  • rosemarie jackowski

    Congratulations to the people of North Bennington. They saw this coming.

    Just a couple of questions:
    1. Why can’t the superintendent’s duties be consolidated. Actually, why do we need superintendents in the first place? How about one superintendent per county.

    2. Why is it necessary to have 24 staff for each 100 students? (I recall that that was mentioned here a while back.)

    3. Is there any guarantee that consolidation will save money? How much will the additional transportation costs be?

    4. If money is an issue – and it is – why the push for Pre-K. The timing could not be worse.

    (For what it’s worth: I have taught on and off since 1957 – in large schools, small schools, rural schools, city schools, mulit-racial schools… In my opinion, there is no comparison. Small school are far superior.)

  • Clifton Long

    If leadership’s argument in support of this bill is based on the age of our system, does that mean we should also get rid of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights?

  • Stu Lindberg

    The Vermont Department of Education could be dismantled along with every supervisory union in the state. Each of our schools could operate independently with locally elected school board members with all administrative responsibilities kept in the building. What would the result of this be? Massive cost savings, complete ownership of the schools by the local stakeholders and huge improvements in student achievement. The VT DOE could be renamed the Department of Education statistics with less than a dozen employees keeping yearly records in archives.

  • Stu Lindberg

    The entire Vermont Department of Education could be dismantled along with every supervisory union in the state. The changes would be almost instant and dramatic. The taxpayers would have a lot more money and our students academic achievement would improve greatly. Vermont does not have the student population or taxpayer base to support the layers of foolish bureaucracy imposed upon us by the state and federal government. Each one of our local schools could operate independently governed by their school boards and administered by their building principals. The Vermont DOE could become the office of vital educational statistics where student records are kept on file by a staff of less than ten. The Feds have no constitutional right to be involved in education. A state constitutional amendment should be passed which prohibits politicians from interfering with a child’s education.

  • Mary Smith

    Giving up local control of education is foolish. New York City school are under the infamous Board of Education which is cumbersome and often corrupt and does a disservice to their students.

    The Supervisory Union where I work however would benefit from one board not seven. Why not just eliminate all the boards in each supervisory union except one? That would be the logical way to go – one SU, one Board.

    Students can’t get jobs because Vermont is a socialist state and is very unfriendly to businesses. Institute a thriving capitalism, encourage businesses to come here by reducing tax and land restrictions and there will be enough jobs for a thriving economy. Then schools will have enough funding. Too bad Vermonters can’t see the interconnectedness of business and education…

  • Mark Bushnell

    For what it’s worth, Vermont has the fourth lowest state unemployment rate as of February, 2014, the most recent month for which statistics are available.

    Here is a link to the U.S. Dept. of Labor Statistics:

    • Stu Lindberg

      We do have a low unemployment rate for sure. Perhaps this is because so many working people have left and people that are eligible to work are on welfare or have given up looking for a job.

  • Wendy wilton

    My hope is that the legislature will realize, as I testified to them, expanding public school choice is the only real way to balance the consolidation of power this bill represents. That expansion needs to include to independent schools operate as defacto public schools (North Bennington, St. Johnsbury Academy, etc…), because they are part of the fabric of public education today.

    If we are really concerned about local control, then give choices to parents. That will be much better than hundreds of little school boards that operate under the misguided assumption that they can actually control anything. In today’s world of education under Act 60 or 68, local control is a myth. Just look at all the towns whose school boards reduced cost only to have the tax rate climb due to the Act 60/68 conundrum.

    Enhance local control, demand public school choice.

  • Mike Barone

    Vermont has a lowest unemployment rate in 2014 I believe, because there are to few Vermonters left who able to afford to live in Vermont, they were born here And could not stay,” we have three children who wish they could” as there are to few family supporting incomes opportunities. The remaining are exceptional versed business people who could survive in any business environment or employed by the public tax dollars, and the remaining- remaining majority are to poorly educated who didn’t escape the dependency Vermont offers. The less successful or the ones we failed to educate yes “poorly educated”of our population who, we business owners seem to take full advantage off; and who otherwise failed in the current education system , Maybe their not that un educated as by repetition of dependance experience they will continue to live off a support system which traps them here. Opportunity becomes “dependance” and the reverse of feeling trapped, they have learned and happily take full advantage off our poor governance and generosities ? Like wise, well educated kids learn quickly Vermont’s lacks opportunity.
    Either way business’s have a tough time in Vermont’s business climate because of Vermont’s one minded democracy, disabling regulatory and tax the other guy environments chokes entrepreneurial risk.

    Let the local control parents hire the principal.The local board help hire the support team, to educate our local children. The state close all Supervisor Unions. The state voters vote to allow a significantly reduced Department of Educational Guidance services who no longer have power over our students. “PARENTS, School Board and Principal” And the Department of other wise significantly reduced Education can interface with business leaders to meet their needs. Parents and Principals known as the “Captains of the educational Ship”are the closest to our children. Small is beautiful and if the dept. of Ed would get out of the way, with the huge savings from reduced administrative redundancy and a better business tax policy, regulatory environment better jobs with higher family supporting wages many more beautiful kids might be born Vermonters fore which we would be honored to educate.


  • John McClaughry

    The case can be made that 256 school districts are too many for this small state.
    The problem with this bill is that – to seriously mix a metaphor – it is trying to rearrange the deck chairs inside the box.
    Because the town is the local polity of Vermonters, the multitown RED will take on the character of the multitown waste management district. The control of its service – education – will be in the hands of the “stakeholders”, not including parents and children.
    The out of the box solution is to reorganize Vermont into forty or so Swiss-style autonomous shires, that will become the polity for local governance generally, including education. (Cf Bryan & McClaughry, The Vermont Papers, 1989).
    The mandatory RED plan will certainly kill tuition town parental choice, because each RED will include all 14 grades of public schools. To stay alive, the independent schools would have to agree to accept the shackles of the overweening authority in Montpelier, which will eventually force them into being public schools in threadbare drag.
    Finally, I am unpersuaded by Joel Cook’s reservations about the bill. Aside from exterminating independent schools completely, the VT-NEA would like nothing more than having RED budget approval spread out over a dozen towns, whose citizens are ill equipped to resist, while the VT NEA is well equipped to push through large spending increases.