Lawmakers take testimony on school board consolidation Tuesday

Legislators are considering a proposal to restructure public education in Vermont. Under the plan, school boards would be consolidated into smaller units that would govern larger groups of students. The practical effect would be the dissolution of the state's 282 school board districts and the creation of 30 to 60 supervisory districts.

The bill is still being drafted by the House Education Committee; lawmakers hope to finalize the legislation (which is a committee bill and at this point does not have a number) after a public hearing on Tuesday.

The hearing will be held in the House Chamber of the Statehouse from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Committee members debated the details of the bill Friday and were still a long way from agreement on key components of the legislation, including the timeline, the criteria for districts and how the Legislature would be involved in the process.

Several lawmakers compared the proposal to Act 48, the state statute that created a five-year timeline and framework for the state's universal health care plan, which is slated to go into effect in 2017.

The deadline for the "education governance" plan is July 1, 2020. The timeline is broken down into the development of criteria for the formation of districts (spring 2014); and the formation of a work group that would assess the legal and fiscal impact of smaller districts on school choice, tax rates, representation, collection of data and accounting (summer/fall 2014).

Reports on the fiscal and legal impacts of school board consolidation would be due to the General Assembly by January 2015.

School boards would be encouraged to voluntarily realign districts between 2014 and 2017. The minimum district size is four K-12 school districts with at least 1,250 students. A design team would work with local officials in districts that have not found a way to realign voluntarily.

Lawmakers say changing the way schools are governed will improve curriculum development, teaching practices, access to data and ultimately lead to better educational outcomes for students.

A secondary result, they say, could be potential cost savings and more stability for taxpayers through better management of financial resources.

Political pressure is building for changes to the public school system and the statewide property tax structure.

The statewide property tax increased 5 cents per $100 of assessed property value last year and is slated to increase between 5 cents and 7 cents this year.

Thirty-five municipalities out of 246 towns rejected school budgets on Town Meeting Day, according to the Vermont School Boards Association.


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