One of those proposals isH.380, sponsored by Rep. Heidi Scheuermann, R-Stowe. She wants to create 15 statewide Consolidated Administrative Districts that would mirror the state’s technical education center catchment areas.
H.361, the House Education Committee’s legislation, uses incentives and penalties to encourage small school districts to form larger school systems with a minimum of 1,100 pupils.
Scheuermann wants to make a structural change that she believes could address the quality of education and concerns about school efficiencies.
“This is a real opportunity for us to do something more,” Scheuermann said. “We want to address the quality of education. What seems to be lost in this conversation is realizing that we have an opportunity here to really transform our system into a 21st century educational system.”
The Legislature this year has been focused on finding ways to improve the quality of education while reducing school spending. Vermont has seen a loss of 21,000 students in its public schools since 1997 and demographic projections show the population — and the number of school children — will continue to decline through at least 2030. School spending, meanwhile, continues to climb.
“I think we could offer so much more if we really focused on the student and not the adult, not the superintendents, not the school board members, not the parents, not the seats … focus on the student and what that student might benefit from best,” Scheuermann said.
Teaching methods have changed dramatically, and graduates need technology and critical thinking skills in the new economy, Scheuermann said.
“I hear in my economic development committee too many students aren’t prepared for the work force, for college,” said Scheuermann, a member of the House’s Commerce and Economic Development Committee.
Her bill, she said, seeks to prepare students for the global economy.
“By doing that, we can do it in a way that reconnects taxpayers to the budgets voted on and the money being spent,” Scheuermann said.
Maintaining equal opportunity for Vermont’s public school children is also a must, Scheuermann says.
Scheuermann believes Act 60 and 68, while creating funding equity, “disconnected Vermonters, both from the budgets voted upon and money spent, and from the outcomes achieved.”
“It was patently unfair that a community like Stowe was able to raise so much more on one penny (of taxation) while in another town a miniscule amount was raised on the same penny,” Scheuermann said.
But Scheuermann disagrees with the direction of H.361. Scheuermann says H.361 pushes consolidation too far and doesn’t go far enough with funding reform. She felt the same way about last year’s push to mandate school consolidation, which collapsed at the session’s end.
Boundaries for the new consolidated administrative districts would be the same as those for the state’s technical center regions and would have their own boards, which would lead to a more efficient provision of supplies, transportation services and special education, she said.
Scheuermann’s proposal also expands school choice. Students would have the option to attend any elementary or secondary school within their consolidated administrative district.
“This would create a marketplace for our local schools, and allow for our schools to become beacons of high quality,” Scheuermann said.
Local school districts would present budgets to the consolidated administrative boards, which would then develop what Scheuermann calls “a global budget.”
Voters of each of the 15 administrative districts would approve budgets and a regional property tax would be assessed.
“To ensure the educational equality the Brigham decision called for, each consolidated district would be guaranteed equalized spending up to the statewide per-pupil average, paid for by a base education tax rate,” Scheuermann said. “If a consolidated district were unable to raise the amount that would cover its guaranteed spending, it would receive the difference from the state, derived from the non-property tax revenues in the education fund.”
The plan would assess an added regional tax on consolidated districts that spend more per pupil than the statewide average.
“Vermonters are clamoring for change. It is time for Montpelier not only to take notice, but to act boldly,” Scheuermann said. “Creating a system that increases local control, expands opportunities for our children, and improves the quality of our education is not just the right thing to do, it is a necessity.”