Alternative Ed bill would reduce number of school districts in Vermont to 15

Rep. Heidi Scheuermann, R-Stowe, a member of the House Committee on Commerce and Economic Development. Photo by Roger Crowley/for VTDigger

Rep. Heidi Scheuermann, R-Stowe, a member of the House Committee on Commerce and Economic Development. Photo by Roger Crowley/for VTDigger

Now that the House Education Committee has settled on an education governance reform bill, lawmakers are turning their attention to other proposals.

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.”

Amy Ash Nixon

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  • This bill appears to be a product of a lot of thought, but I don’t think it is feasible (or desirable in Vermont).

    The most glaring problem with H.380 is that it doesn’t recognize the many structural differences between different supervisory unions. These differences range from how services are provided to staffing contracts to business software and more.

    It would cost more and be much less efficient to try to create an oversight organization (the Consolidated Administrative District or CAD) who’s primary function would end up being the supervision of a disparate set of sub-offices (the former supervisory unions).

    The process of budget approval in an environment where budget setting authority is spread among the local districts and the CAD would create tremendous confusion. If a CAD wide budget is rejected, for example, who is going to be responsible for coming up with a number that all the voters in the CAD would approve? And what if voters in town A are voting against the budget due to local cuts and SU level increases (see Bristol this year), and voters in town B are voting against the budget due to increases in general (see Vergennes Union HS this year)?

    H.380 does present some interesting concepts, but it goes way beyond H.361 in trying to shoehorn communities with different expectations and operating realities into the same organization.

  • John McClaughry

    I credit Rep. Scheuermann with a lot of careful work. However, she’s still trying to rationalize a huge overgrown system. Her bill proposes to expand parental choice – but most likely it will end choice of independent schools in the 90 tuition towns, all of which will then be in new megadistricts with full public school options.
    Worse yet, the regional boards will quickly fall under the control of the education bureaucracy and the VT-NEA – who can organize their supporters across town lines, while ordinary citizens and taxpayers of the individual towns will come to view the megadistrict as another waste management district, beyond their control.
    See my School Choice – And Lower Property Taxes at http://vtdigger.wpengine.com/2015/02/02/john-mcclaughry-school-choice-lower-property-taxes/

  • Ed Letourneau

    I like the idea. But doubt it could work in Bennington County. The little towns are never going to support the spending we see in a towns like Manchester. It could work in the Burlington area.

  • Jamie Carter

    They still don’t get it…

    Why can’t we have school choice?

    Why can’t we move away from the archaic property tax?

    Why are we still trying to force consolidation that will at best save 3% of a bloated and unsustainable budget… less the the annual increase…

    How can anyone make this statement with a straight face

    “The Legislature this year has been focused on finding ways to improve the quality of education while reducing school spending.”

    The legislature this year focused on finding ways to pretend they are reforming education without actually doing so. They also focused on saying they were going to reduce spending to the press while kicking the can down the road…

    This year the legislature formed a “super committee” that managed to be even less useful the previous generic committees. This year Dems, Progs, and Reps all proved how utterly incompetent and clueless they are when it comes to making real changes to our education system. Every single one of them that “worked” on these bills should feel a great deal of shame in their inadequacy.

  • Grant Reynolds

    This bill basically creates county school districts. They work in other states, why not here? Because the other states don’t have towns, with 253 years of history, including running their own schools. The only way this concept could work here is if it were totally radical: towns have no say in the operation of schools, and budgets are passed by a representative board, rather than submitted to the whims of the voters. The county school system would run all the schools, which does make school choice feasible because the county would have financial control of all of them and could shift funds when schools gained or lost students. But it wouldn’t really work that way. There would be districts, established by the county, and students would go to the school in the district. Very limited school choice, if any. Don’t believe it? That’s the way all suburban county school systems operate. They have great political battles over the district lines, because some districts are perceived as better than others and real estate values are enhanced as a result.
    So what’s wrong with this? Simply, it changes Vermont into a big suburb. Its towns become road maintainers, with very little input into how their schools are run. My children went to school in such a system, a very highly regarded one, but it wasn’t confused with township lines, governments, and local pride. Even chartered cities were part of the county school system. Is that what you want for our state? The only input the voters had was to vote for members of a nine-person board. How will this improve the education of our children?
    Let’s face reality. Education in Vermont is expensive because of geography and history. Deal with it. Turn education into an income tax supported, town and voluntary union school system, with property taxes on non-homestead property. But stop messing with administration, which will bring no economies worth mentioning. Ms. Sheurman’s semi-county system is just a blueprint for total disorganization, as towns fight each other for funds and budgets are routinely voted down because the towns had nothing to do with its preparation or adoption.

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