House Appropriations passes out school district consolidation bill in 7-4 vote on Friday, floor debate Tuesday

MONTPELIER -- The House Appropriations Committee voted out the school district consolidation bill, on Friday morning.

The committee supported H.883 in a 7-4 vote. Two Republicans (Reps. Bob Helm and Chuck Pearce) and two Democrats (Reps. Ann Manwaring and Kitty Toll) cast dissenting votes.

The bill would eliminate 270-plus school districts and create 45 to 55 supervisory districts that would have unified management of personnel and coordinated best practices for teachers and district-wide curriculum. A design team would collect information from local communities and then create a redistricting plan for schools. The creation and implementation of the plan would take six years. School districts also have the option to voluntarily merge.

House Appropriations also approved an amendment to the bill that gives schools more flexibility in size of forming expanded districts.

The proposal has been bottled up in House Appropriations for a week and the legislation, which was passed out of House Education on March 21. It has take a circuitous route through the House in large part because it is a politically difficult proposal. The House Democratic leadership, which is pushing for H.883 hasn't been able to get enough votes to support passage. Lawmakers are divided not by party, but by the perceived impact of redistricting on the communities they represent.

Rep. Ann Manwaring, D-Wilmington, a long time member of House Appropriations opposes school district consolidation.

"I just want to say first and foremost I do understand that every one of us views and votes on a bill like this as it relates to our home communities and that includes me as to whether it helps or hurts us," Manwaring told her colleagues after the vote. I also want to say part of the intensity of the questions I have raised come from my basic belief that this approach is the wrong course.

"Vermont's education system is bottom up, it's not top down," she continued. "Unless the state is going to take over and run the schools it will always be that way."

Rep. Phil Winters, R-Williamstown, voted for the plan. He cites statistics as proof that the system has to change. Vermont has the second highest per pupil spending rate and the lowest student teacher ratio in the nation.

"I see no reason we should be way up there," Winters said. "I'm not at all sure what we just did in our committee is the proper way to go, but I think maybe it will open the door so we can talk about some things that have kind of been taboo for the last 10 years."


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