After impassioned speeches, House approves school district consolidation in round 1 - VTDigger

After impassioned speeches, House approves school district consolidation in round 1

The school board consolidation bill squeaked through the Vermont House in a 75-62 vote on second reading late Tuesday night, after long-running predictions from Statehouse insiders that the bill would not survive the House and would hit a brick wall in the Senate.

Though the legislation has yet to get final approval from the House, education reform advocates have scored a major victory with the first floor vote, as the Senate Education Committee began a review of education cost containment legislation on Tuesday.

H.883 calls for the merger of the state’s 270-plus school districts into some 45-55 expanded school districts. The idea is that by pooling resources, talent and money, schools will become more efficient and better able to provide opportunities for students, develop unified curriculums, and set standards for best teacher practices. The bill sets deadlines for merger recommendations and implementation over a six year period. A Design Team would draw the districts after taking input from local communities.

But there is no guarantee that eliminating hundreds of school board members as part of the district mergers will save money, and many lawmakers question whether the sweeping changes outlined in H.883 will result in better academic experiences for students.

The consolidation issue, every bit as contentious as political redistricting, has divided the House — not along party lines, but along the fault line of large and small communities.

Democrats and Republicans voted no … and yes, depending on where they lived and how their constituents would be affected.

The discussion over H.883 lasted more than three hours, and the debate centered on the frustration lawmakers feel about the impact of higher statewide property tax rates on taxpayers and local schools. The statewide rate increased 5 cents for residential property owners last year and will go up at least 4 cents (possibly 6 cents) this year. Next year the rate will be between 6 cents and 8 cents per $100 of assessed property value.

Taxpayers voted down 36 school budgets on Town Meeting Day. Shortly after H.883, which had been discussed in House Education, began to gain momentum.

In the extensive debate that transpired Tuesday night, a number of lawmakers faulted H.883 because it doesn’t explicitly address the education funding formula and rapidly increasing property tax rates. Detractors also complained that their districts are operating efficiently already and they don’t need Montpelier telling them how to run their schools. Critics said local school districts would lose control over budgets and management decisions.

Supporters implored colleagues to support the bill because they said it creates a vehicle for communities to share resources and think more creatively about how to offer better educational programs for children. They said it would stabilize board and administrative leadership at a time when it is difficult for many districts to find board members, principals and superintendents.

Most of the comments on the floor were against the bill. Rep. Kevin “Coach” Christie, a member of the House Education Committee, patiently answered each question with direct answers.

Rep. Chip Conquest, D-Wells River, said the state needs to identify schools that need to improve educational opportunities, but “we do not need to realign every board in the state to do that.” He worries that the consolidation effort will cause churn and take energy away from students. “We don’t know what it will cost, and we don’t know if there will be savings,” Conquest said.

“There’s a danger in passing this bill that we’ve created an environment in which making other changes is going to be more difficult going forward,” Conquest said.

Rep. Heidi Scheuermann, R-Stowe, said she wasn’t in the Statehouse to put through legislation that is designed to make the lives of superintendents easier. “I’m here to represent my students and my taxpayers,” she said.

“This is not what Vermonters have asked us to do. They want property tax relief and this doesn’t do it,” Scheuermann said.

Rep. Patti Komline, R-Dorset, questioned whether the cost of consolidation will be borne by local school districts or the state. Rep. Martha Heath said the rough estimate is that the costs for district mergers will be offset by savings at the local level and at the state level the cost for fiscal years 2015 and 2016 will be a little over $2 million. This amount is appropriated in H.883.

Komline said her constituents haven’t expressed an interest in giving up control of their budgets and local school districts. “They’ve asked for property tax reform,” she said. Komline said the school consolidation proposal will pit towns against one another and will make the state “a house divided.”

House Speaker Shap Smith kept the debate open and did not allow points of order to be taken. The debate eventually played out, and there was only one roll call vote.

The House will take up the bill for third reading on Wednesday. The Senate Education Committee must pass out its version of the bill tomorrow in order to meet the May 10 adjournment deadline.

The yeas (75):

Ancel of Calais; Bissonnette of Winooski; Botzow of Pownal; Brennan of Colchester; Buxton of Tunbridge; Carr of Brandon; Christie of Hartford; Clarkson of Woodstock; Cole of Burlington; Condon of Colchester; Consejo of Sheldon; Copeland-Hanzas of Bradford; Corcoran of Bennington; Cupoli of Rutland City; Deen of Westminster; Dickinson of St. Albans Town; Donovan of Burlington; Ellis of Waterbury; Emmons of Springfield; Evans of Essex; Fagan of Rutland City; Fisher of Lincoln; Frank of Underhill; Gage of Rutland City; Head of South Burlington; Heath of Westford;
Hubert of Milton; Jerman of Essex; Jewett of Ripton; Johnson of South Hero; Juskiewicz of Cambridge; Keenan of St. Albans City; Kitzmiller of Montpelier; Koch of Barre Town; Krowinski of Burlington; Kupersmith of South Burlington; Lanpher of Vergennes; Larocque of Barnet; Lenes of Shelburne; Lewis of Berlin; Lippert of Hinesburg; Macaig of Williston; Masland of Thetford; McCarthy of St. Albans City; McCormack of Burlington; McCullough of Williston; McFaun of Barre Town; Myers of Essex; Nuovo of Middlebury; O’Brien of Richmond; Peltz of Woodbury; Pugh of South Burlington; Rachelson of Burlington; Ralston of Middlebury; Ram of Burlington; Russell of Rutland City; Ryerson of Randolph; Savage of Swanton; Sharpe of Bristol; South of St. Johnsbury; Stevens of Waterbury; Stuart of Brattleboro; Sweaney of Windsor; Till of Jericho; Townsend of South Burlington; Turner of Milton; Vowinkel of Hartford; Waite-Simpson of Essex; Walz of Barre City;
Webb of Shelburne; Weed of Enosburgh; Wilson of Manchester; Winters of Williamstown; Wizowaty of Burlington; Yantachka of Charlotte.

The nays (62):

Bartholomew of Hartland; Batchelor of Derby; Beyor of Highgate; Bouchard of Colchester; Branagan of Georgia; Browning of Arlington; Burke of Brattleboro; Campion of Bennington; Canfield of Fair Haven; Connor of Fairfield; Conquest of Newbury; Cross of Winooski; Dakin of Chester; Davis of Washington; Devereux of Mount Holly; Donahue of Northfield; Fay of St. Johnsbury; Feltus of Lyndon; French of Randolph; Gallivan of Chittenden; Goodwin of Weston; Grad of Moretown; Greshin of Warren; Haas of Rochester; Hebert of Vernon; Helm of Fair Haven; Higley of Lowell; Hooper of Montpelier; Huntley of Cavendish; Johnson of Canaan; Kilmartin of Newport City; Komline of Dorset; Krebs of South Hero; Lawrence of Lyndon; Malcolm of Pawlet; Manwaring of Wilmington; Marcotte of Coventry; Martin of Springfield; Martin of Wolcott; Michelsen of Hardwick; Miller of Shaftsbury; Mook of Bennington; Moran of Wardsboro; Morrissey of Bennington; Pearce of Richford; Pearson of Burlington; Poirier of Barre City; Potter of Clarendon; Quimby of Concord; Scheuermann of Stowe; Shaw of Pittsford; Smith of New Haven; Spengler of Colchester; Stevens of Shoreham; Strong of Albany; Terenzini of Rutland Town; Toleno of Brattleboro;
Toll of Danville; Van Wyck of Ferrisburgh; Woodward of Johnson; Wright of Burlington; Young of Glover.

Absent (12)

Burditt of West Rutland; Donaghy of Poultney; Hoyt of Norwich; Klein of East Montpelier;
Marek of Newfane; Mitchell of Fairfax; Mrowicki of Putney; O’Sullivan of Burlington; Partridge of Windham; Shaw of Derby; Trieber of Rockingham; Zagar of Barnard.

Anne Galloway

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34 Comments on "After impassioned speeches, House approves school district consolidation in round 1"


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Howard Ires
2 years 8 months ago

Local control of schools is the best thing about the Vermont public school system. This is the WORST bill I have ever seen come out of Montpelier. I’m embarrassed for the Demoractic party.

Wayne Andrews
2 years 8 months ago

Digger: How about listing the reps that voted on this issue. Senators who read this forum…. beware of your vote we are watching.
Finally in all these discussions no one speaks to what happens should consolidation be forced and then enrollments go up in the future? Do these reps think the houses are going to stay vacant forever?

Pete Domine
2 years 8 months ago

that information is publicly available on the legislative website:

Cedar Hannan
2 years 8 months ago
2 years 8 months ago
Some points about the above story: Regarding “there is no guarantee that eliminating hundreds of school board members as part of the district mergers will save money” … I have never heard any consolidation proponent claim that the school board members cost a lot, despite the many sarcastic attempts to frame the discussion that way. What has been claimed is that the large number of school board members create expense by their actions (or lack thereof). We can believe or not that a low student to board member is good (or bad or indifferent), but we need to at least… Read more »
Janice Prindle
2 years 8 months ago
I don’t think you understood what Schuermann was driving at. Superintendents will certainly have an easier job under consolidation since they will have the power and need not spend the effort to grapple with five or six local boards that actually make decisions now, but will be window dressing under this bill. Absolute authority is a lot easier than messy democracy. It’s not making a straw dog argument to respond to the real political agenda behind a bill– especially one that would make as drastic a change as this one, being pushed at the 11th hour, literally, in the closing… Read more »
Pete Novick
2 years 8 months ago
Try this experiment: Arrange a meeting with your boss and then brief him or her on your idea which neither improves the top line (sales), nor the bottom line (profit), and then see how s/he reacts. In the real world, ideas that evolve into policy and program action are by nature tethered to expectations which are grounded in improvement which can be measured. The whole edifice of modern economic practice hinges on improvement at the margin: lower costs and grow sales. This is true whether you are in the private sector or the public sector. But here in lemon drop… Read more »
David Schoales
2 years 8 months ago

Half the House passes an education bill that doesn’t:
“a. Improve education outcomes
b. Lower costs”
Hopefully the communities these voters represent will not send them back to the StateHouse next year.

John Freitag
2 years 8 months ago

I voted for Peter Shumlin and the Democrats on the platform they ran on – to close Vermont Yankee and move if practicable to single payer health care. I did not anticipate or expect them to eliminate my local school board who has done so much to ensure educational quality in my town.
This is top down one size fits all bill has not had due diligence or needed buy in by the public and should not be rushed through this session.
John Freitag

Wendy wilton
2 years 8 months ago

If the consolidation effort were coupled with expansion of public school choice and student:teacher and student: staff ratios it might be an effective way to enhance outcomes and reduce costs over time. However the bill as it stands does not incorporate concrete ways to arrive at either goal.

Kim Fried
2 years 8 months ago
Here goes our school control, just what the administrators and Govenror wants. Next we kill the high performance small schools that are the center of our communities. Just what the Governor wants-central control. Biggier is better to these folks. Citizens aren’t capable of taking care of their children’s education. And know one knows whether it will save any money! Well, bigger isn’t always better and money isn’t everything when it comes to our kids. Too bad our Governor and his administrators feel have never learned this lesson. Please someone tell me what is happening to Vermont……..
Jay Nichols
2 years 8 months ago
I believe H.883 will provide long term tax relief to taxpayers, better control of unsustainable education cost growth, and provide better educational opportunities for students. We should do it not to make Superintendents lives easier but rather to fix an archaic century-plus old system that hinders rather than helping student and school improvement. I am a Superintendent in full disclosure. If this bill passes some Superintendents will lose positions, other administrators will lose jobs, teachers will lose jobs but realistically that is what needs to happen. We don’t pay our school employees too much … we simply have too many… Read more »
Walter Cooper
2 years 8 months ago
Vermont’s school-age population is shrinking at a shocking, historic pace. At the same time, Vermont’s students remain as geographically dispersed as ever. The school issue to me is another canary in the coal mine: outside of Chittenden County Vermont is collapsing economically and educated middle-income families are leaving in droves. In my Winsor County town we are losing 20% of the first grade class to out-migration this coming summer. The numbers in surrounding towns are just as stark. A Vermont with mostly old rich people is not sustainable. I love this place, but Montpelier is making it awfully hard to… Read more »
Wayne Andrews
2 years 8 months ago

In my Town the Schoolboard used to use pie charts to explain the cost of running our school. Those pie charts showed that labor took up most of the space. When questioned by old timers vigorously the pie charts disappeared from the presentation and then when asked again by those same old timers later the answer was “it demeaning to discuss teachers wages”.

steve stein
2 years 8 months ago
Perhaps it is not salaries that are the problem – but if the labor force worked until age 65 (as most private employees do before retirement) we could pay a higher salary. The math just doesn’t add up to have people only work 25-30 years when a full career is perhaps 40 years long for someone with 4 years of college and 3 years of grad school.(age 25-65). We end up paying for multiple employees (a 55 year old retired employee and a 25 year old working employee) to do the job of 1 person. This is not just a… Read more »
Will Patten
2 years 8 months ago

Debate over H883 is like the debate over health care reform. Change is always unnerving. We can’t be sure it will work. But we know that the status quo is broken.
I hope the legislature has the courage to try something new.

John Perry
2 years 8 months ago

Does anyone really think that making school districts bigger will do anything whatsoever? Talk about rearranging deck chairs!

Peter Berger
2 years 8 months ago
Regarding Mr. Schneider’s comment that he’s “never heard any consolidation proponent claim that the school board members cost a lot,” comments on this site have included the statement that since Vermont schools are currently controlled by “273 busy bureaucracies now — shifting the control of our schools to 45-55 bureaucracies will greatly reduce the administrative cost.” That argument misstates the numbers and the creatures we’re talking about. First, the 273 school boards aren’t bureaucracies. They’re the citizen-elected agencies of government whose schools we’re talking about. The bureaucracies at issue are the superintendents’ offices. This bill reduces that number not from… Read more »
andew nemethy
2 years 8 months ago
Thanks for chiming in Peter. I used to edit your eminently readable and observant and informed columns on education at the Times Argus. Glad to get your perspective on this. I think we need to consolidate small rural schools to save money, not necessarily the school oversight structure, where Superintendents and their staff get very high wages. I do think their jobs are complex due to extensive federal, state and legal requirements, but I am not sure this is the right step, especially after reading your views. How about writing an op-ed column for Digger on this topic, elaborating on… Read more »
victor ialeggio
2 years 8 months ago

…the Secretary of Education’s newly conveyed proposal that the H.883′s expanded school boards not be allowed to fire a superintendent without the Secretary of Education’s permission.”

Do you know off hand — where does this proposal fit in to the scheme of things? How conveyed? I can’t seem to find it either in the original bill nor in the bill as amended by Appropiations (house journal for 4/29.)

Peter Berger
2 years 8 months ago

My source is the Rutland Herald article “School district mergers debated in House, Senate,” on page 1 of today’s paper. It’s part of newly submitted “last-minute consolidation legislation proposed by the Agency of Education.”

Janice Prindle
2 years 8 months ago

Thank you Mr. Berger. And to back that up, let’s put this into the context of the real agenda, for which Mr. Schneider’s accommodating posture is totally inappropriate: the corporate takeover of public education. A must-read excerpt from Diane Ravitch’s book, Reign of Error,at

Pat Robins
2 years 8 months ago

Having a unified K-12 single board and a ‘global’ budget will force the board to make the most effective decisions and trade offs for all the students. While the funding model may not be perfect, the problem is spending and teacher /student ratios, and a continuing shrinking of the number of students statewide.

2 years 8 months ago
What I see here is nothing less than Centralization. Vermont is a bit behind the rest of the Nation on this. If we continue to look at the percentages and doing the math to try to make this work, we are not looking at the cause. How long before we have to “shrink” the Supervisory Unions again? Then again, till we have one Supervisor for all of Vermont. This is how Centralization works, slowly but surely. In the end we will all have a, “smack myself in the forehead” moment and say, “what were we thinking”! At that point we… Read more »
2 years 8 months ago
First, in the spirit of full disclosure it must be stated that I am the Head of School of the recently formed independent town academy, The Village School of North Bennington. As you can imagine, we have been following H883 very closely these past weeks. I would respectfully submit, that the events surrounding the creating our independent town academy may actually present an alternative model for residents to consider. It is admittedly an “out of the box” concept particularly when viewed through the prism of the bureaucracy that has become public education. This model looks at the forces created by… Read more »
John MacGovern
2 years 8 months ago

Congratulations, Tom. What to people of Bennington did to improve the quality of education for their children is wonderful and should be considered as a model for other communities. H.883 would, if passed, not save money, create havoc and further destroy local control over schools. And the quality of education will likely diminish. But, in the world of topsyturvydom, that’s a home run.

John McClaughry
2 years 8 months ago

I’ve made this point before, but consolidation of education districts without consolidating the underlying towns means that education governance will be like waste management district governance – nobody owns the regional schools any more, and the union, organized in every component town, will have a lot more clout than disorganized citizens.

Jeff Burroughs
2 years 8 months ago
I’ve listed below sentiments that seem to have been echoed here in these forums and across the state. • Taxes can’t fund the quality of education that Vermont has built. •The costs of rising school budgets are mostly “people costs”, and those will continue to rise. •People are fed up with inaction locally and nationally from our politicians. •The Brigham decision established the concept that equal spending is equivalent to equal education. So to offer “opportunities” to one child requires we offer it to all thus Acts 60 and 68. •Any action that brings change will be painful. I feel… Read more »
Ralph Colin
2 years 8 months ago
The underlying problem here is Act 60 and its brother in-law, Act 68. Together they essentially removed any real sense of local control and gave the state both fiscal and policy control over the entire state public education system. Now those both serving in the Administration and the General Assembly are attempting to solidify their already stultifying domination even further. The results will NOT reduce costs and, in fact, may very likely increase them. Therefore, they will NOT satisfying the already smothering tax problems, but may make them even worse. What the passage of H.883 WILL probably do is (a)… Read more »
Chris Lang
2 years 8 months ago
Heres a thought: Closing smaller schools and busing or driving all the kids to other towns may not be practical. Instead why not restructure school schedules and move to a block program where students study English one day, Math the next and then stagger those days in different near by towns so teachers, by subject, can teach one day in town 1, another day in town 2 etc. This way we could gain more teaching out of our best teachers, assure more equality across schools (which 60 and 68 was intended to do but does not) and make the system… Read more »
2 years 8 months ago

All the redistricting and consolidation is just to coordinate the final phases of Common Core implementation.
Remove local control, remove parent input, centralize power in Montpelier, then give control of education to the federal government under the guise of being “state led”.
This is just another Statist power grab.

Dave Bellini
2 years 8 months ago

A lot of folks are unhappy with this decision. What are the chances that these same folks will vote the same, exact, way in November. Probably very likely.

Karla Bushway
2 years 8 months ago

I’ve been watching the small school in my town get bloated in both budget and staffing since I attended there in the 80s. The student population has shrunk and the kids are no smarter than in my day. So I’m open to change and seeing if it will have a positive effect on an increasingly untenable situation.

Peter Berger
2 years 8 months ago

Your observation isn’t unreasonable. I’d encourage you, though, to consider that the bloating in budget and staffing, and the stagnation in achievement, are the result of the mandates imposed by the state and bureaucratic authorities to which this bill gives more power, even as it abolishes your local representative school board, which if it’s been performing like most local boards, has been the chief combatant against the bloating you rightly object to.

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