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.

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Hilary Niles

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  • Don Webster

    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

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

  • Anne Donahue

    “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 the rules that require a careful process. The process is protected by the fact that a 3/4 majority, not a simple majority, is required in order to agree to rush a bill through.

  • victor ialeggio

    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.

  • 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 consolidation “yes” or “no” down the road in favor of artificial adjournment dates and in-house procedure does this very important question and the people of Vermont a huge injustice. It would have been much better to extend the legislative session a few days to allow for a thorough airing of the issues in the House and Senate followed by a definitive up or down vote

  • John Freitag

    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 this too will raise the property tax rate.
    School governance consolidation has nothing to do with addressing the increasing property tax rate. We need to open the discussion to address the real cost drivers which are continuing to add more programs to the State education fund and annual salary increases for school personnel which have been much higher the rate of inflation all through the economic recession.
    John Freitag

  • Bill Storz


    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 that any of this had anything to do with “student opportunity” and “equity”. Let’s lead on this issue, not follow.

    Bill Storz, Kirby School Board

    • 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 “lay of the land”.

      Part of that “lay of the land” is what local boards themselves are doing. I do not believe that we can or should continue on a statewide basis as we are now. I still have my “shorting the SU consolidation” proposal up for consideration or as a starting point for discussion.

      I am also presenting tonight to the Williamstown school board an initial proposal to turn our “large” (in Vermont terms greater then 499 students and less then 1,000 – Williamstown = about 550) district into a self contained Unified Union District.

      My view is that we need to decentralize education delivery – not centralize it. I would like to see teach run schools and schools within a school and mobile classrooms and the use of proctors to facilitate online classes and less professionalization of every educational position in our schools (imagine if your parents had to be professional parents prior to teaching you to use the toilet). I would like to see local boards answering to local districts working with board CEOs who are the principals of the buildings.

      I want to see a solid public education system that provides access to quality learning experiences at a price that society will see as sustainable.

      But I’m not going to get locked into dogma – this is not about me. Hell, this isn’t even about local boards. If the only way forward is some form of consolidation then I’m going to be on that bus.

      Let’s all work together and find some finality for the near term so schools can make long range plans – no more punting down the road because the legislature is too lazy to spend the extra several days having a wide ranging public debate.