Saturday, May 03, 2014


News to Know May 3, 2014 (Bill H-883)

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Could somebody explain to me how Bill H-883 has gotten as far as it has?

Vermont Bill H-883

(see who voted at bottom)
"Historic Changes to Structure of Vermont School System Approved by House Panel"  (includes lots of comments at end of article)
Editorial/Comment from The Herald, Randolph, Vermont
Ed. Bill Should Die
   Members of the Vermont House of Representatives would have shown more respect for their constituents if they had decided to let the big school reform bill, H883, die for this year. Rather, in a vote late Tuesday night they gave their 75-62 approval.
   At the time of this vote, how many of the representatives knew how their constituents felt about this issue? Since the proposal seemed to come out of nowhere during the session, there had been no polls, no discussions at the local level, no forums around the state to explain it. A hearing was held at the State House, but a committee hearing doesn’t do justice to a little-understood bill with such wide implications.
   In fact, constituents wouldn’t have been of much help, had they been asked. With so little forewarning, few knew much about the bill that would dissolve their school boards forever, and quite possibly a lot of their schools.
   The claims in favor of H883 were two-fold, one of them deeply suspect. Eliminating all those school boards and supervisory unions, some supporters said, would surely save money.
   That myth was exploded immediately when it was shown that merely the process of remaking the state’s educational districts would cost tens of millions of dollars. Nevertheless, the Shumlin Administration, for one, trotted out its support of H883 as an answer to anger about this year’s higher property taxes. These statements amounted to a shameless political cover.
   In fact, nobody could explain how the money would be saved, except by closing smaller schools. No, said the proponents, that’s not our desire. But there’s reason to believe that closing small schools was exactly the unstated goal of many H883 advocates—and it certainly was the only logical route to cost saving.
   We hope the Vermont Senate will send this revolutionary restructuring to a study committee where its many facets can be thoroughly explored. Then this fall, in running for reëlection, representatives and senators can explain to their constituents why they want to change the very foundation of our education system, or why they don’t. Then it will be up to the people of Vermont to decide, not professional educators.
Letter to Editor, Times Argus, April 30, 2104 - Just a bad bill
   There is a saying that I believe we should try to apply to life’s issues: “Keep it simple, stupid.”
   In regard to the education bill pending in the Legislature, our legislators would do well to heed that saying. In simple terms, this bill will drive the costs of education in
Vermont. That is the last thing we should be doing. This information comes from the Agency of Education’s chief financial officer. Simply put, this bill will dilute local control further by eliminating many school boards, leaving critical functions that these boards perform to be sucked up by an increasing bureaucracy at the state level. This bill simply eliminates internal control functions.
   This plan will hire more lawyers at the Agency of Education level. That is good because they will need them if this bill is passed. Why? Because in simple terms this bill will be seizing some districts’ assets and reallocating them to other districts. Big Brother does not know better when it comes to running our schools. This bill does nothing to fix the problems related to funding and financing education, it takes away local control and is in the “keep it simple” thought process, just a bad bill.
   Ed Deegan,
East Montpelier
Letter to Editor, Times Argus, April 29, 2014, Playing politics
   Even if I knew nothing about how to improve education, I can think of three good reasons to oppose the school consolidation plan now before the Legislature:
   1. Voluntary efforts to consolidate schools have been repeatedly rejected because no one has seen sufficient benefit.
   2. The only clear benefit of the plan is it will be more convenient for superintendents. No one can agree on whether it will help or harm actual education.
   3. Many who support it, including Gov. Shumlin, suddenly start talking about saving money on property taxes when no study says it will. When politicians need to appeal to outright falsehoods to promote their bill, it isn’t hard to conclude there aren’t any good reasons.
   Knowing a little about education in the state makes it look even worse. Anyone who thinks it won’t result in closures of small schools is either stupid or lying. Do you really think three big towns are going to vote to fork over a lot of money to have a tiny school in a tiny town?
   This plan is lacking good
Vermont sense. This is politics at its worst: a plan to make politicians look good by pretending to address a problem (and thus avoiding it), a plan to centralize power, a plan to replace the personal relationships that make our communities, our schools, and the learning of our children work with big systems and bureaucracy. I am astonished and distressed it has gotten so far. I am begging our Legislature to please, once and for all, kill this consolidation idea that our governor is determined to ram down our throats despite its repeated rejection.
   Brian Wightman, Barre
Commentary in Times Argus - The annihilation of local, April 29,2014
   Vermonters are facing a move in our Legislature, endorsed by the state’s education bureaucracy, to consolidate our local schools into “expanded” districts. Some of us, thinking that consolidation would bring greater efficiency and therefore lower costs, may at first suppose there might be some fiscal merit in the proposal.
   There isn’t.
   Even supporters now concede there’s little likelihood of savings and that consolidation will probably increase the cost of public education. For every imagined economy of scale, at least as many inefficiencies arise owing to the new bureaucracy’s greater distance from the classrooms where education happens.
   While the bill does replace existing supervisory union superintendents with fewer uber-superintendents, anyone who thinks those expanded district superintendents won’t be hiring assistant superintendents has never met a superintendent. Additionally, the bill and its sponsors don’t begin to account for the costs involved in leveling teachers’ salaries and equalizing tax rates.
   Bearing in mind that consolidation won’t save money, can we please stop citing the defeat of a fraction of the state’s school budgets as justification for this bill?
   Even more crucially, the bill does more than reshuffle supervisory unions. It eliminates local school boards.
   Read that again. It eliminates local school boards. Eliminating those boards eliminates your power to control your local school. This means that you can be outvoted by citizens from other towns regarding the district’s school budget and your taxes, and that your town’s representative on the expanded board can be outvoted by representatives from the other towns in your new district. In short, the board members from other towns can vote to do anything they want in and with your town’s school, including close it if they decide it will save the expanded district money.
   The bill’s advocates assert it somehow protects small local schools. This is an illogical argument at best and a deceit at worst.
   With the bill financially all but indefensible, proponents now offer “equity” as its prime justification. Equity formerly meant the ability to spend money on school programs, which is why we restructured our tax system via Acts 60 and 68. Supporters now assert that equity means “the quality and variety of educational opportunities available to students throughout the state.” In other words, not only must your school’s students have access to the same amount of money, but the teachers, parents and citizens in your town must do the same things with that money as all other schools.
   The bill’s advocates will claim I’m overstating their intention. But if that’s not what they mean, then their definition of equity and their justification of larger districts make no sense. The logical extension of their species of equity is that
Vermont should be redefined as one large statewide school district.
   Most proponents will deny that’s what they have in mind. But if they mean what they say, that’s what they logically should have in mind.
   I’m sure it will occur to them sooner or later.
   Will the Legislature next contrive to eliminate select boards? Will road “equity” next be required of towns when it comes to asphalt and gravel? Shouldn’t police and fire protection be as equitably available as education? At least for our schools, voluntary cooperation is insufficient to satisfy the Legislature. Which town service will fall next?
   Proponents maintain we must redefine “local.” They contend that just as neighborhoods once gave way to towns as our standard of “local,” so must we now abandon individual towns in favor of combinations of towns, that those expanded districts are the new “local.” Several flaws invalidate that argument. When we combined our hamlet schools, our towns already existed, and they were composed of our neighbors. Our towns weren’t artificially formulated and imposed to replace our neighborhoods.
   Supporters nebulously claim the bill is about “what’s good for kids.” The State Board of Education, in a meaningless flight of rhetoric, declares the bill will enable all students to “thrive and prosper.” No one is against children thriving and prospering. The question is who gets to decide what thriving and prospering look like for your children. This bill says it’s not up to towns, and it’s not up to parents. In place of towns and parents, the Legislature would insert itself and its new mandated, expanded districts.
   That arrogance is unconscionable.
   The Legislature’s blindness to the decades of follies and failures spawned by the Agency of Education and our state’s education bureaucrats, from portfolio assessment to the current top-down implementation of the Common Core, and its willingness to again trust the recommendations of those bureaucrats and to place consolidation in the hands of an agency “design team,” is appalling.
   The Legislature’s silence in the face of self-serving complaints that local governance of schools is too “inconvenient” is a dereliction and a disappointment.
   A pernicious fault in public education is that too many decisions are already made by authorities too far removed from classrooms and students. This bill only extends that distance.
   To garner support, some legislators have proposed permitting limited school choice within the expanded districts. I’m not opposed to school choice.
   But we need to remember, as we stand on the brink of tearing down our home-based system of schools, that the school choice that matters to most of us is the choice we exercise through our local boards to make our children’s schools what we want them to be. 
   That’s something none of us should be willing to lose or be compelled to surrender.
Peter Berger teaches English at
Weathersfield School. Poor Elijah would be pleased to answer letters addressed to him in care of the editor.
Those who voted yes on H.883 in the House: 
Ancel of Calais Bissonnette of Winooski Botzow of Pownal Brennan of Colchester Buxton of Tunbridge Carr of Brandon Christie of Hartford * Clarkson of Woodstock Cole of Burlington Condon of Colchester Consejo of Sheldon * Copeland-Hanzas of BradfordCorcoran of Bennington Cupoli of Rutland City Deen of Westminster Dickinson of St. Albans Town Donovan of Burlington Ellis of Waterbury Emmons of Springfield Evans of Essex Fagan of Rutland City Fisher of Lincoln Frank of Underhill Gage of Rutland City Head of South Burlington Heath of Westford Jerman of Essex Jewett of RiptonJohnson of South Hero Juskiewicz of Cambridge Keenan of St. Albans City Kitzmiller of Montpelier Koch of Barre Town Krowinski of Burlington Kupersmith of South Burlington Lanpher of Vergennes Lenes of Shelburne Lewis of Berlin Lippert of Hinesburg Macaig of Williston Masland of Thetford McCarthy of St. Albans City McCormack of Burlington McCullough of Williston McFaun of Barre Town Michelsen of Hardwick Mitchell of Fairfax Myers of Essex Nuovo of Middlebury O’Brien of Richmond Peltz of Woodbury * Pugh of South Burlington Rachelson of Burlington Ralston of Middlebury Ram of Burlington Russell of Rutland City Ryerson of Randolph Savage of Swanton Sharpe of Bristol Spengler of Colchester Stevens of Waterbury Stuart of Brattleboro Sweaney of Windsor Till of Jericho Townsend of South BurlingtonTurner of Milton Vowinkel of Hartford Waite-Simpson of Essex Walz of Barre City Webb of Shelburne Weed of Enosburgh Wilson of Manchester Winters of Williamstown Wizowaty of Burlington Wright of Burlington Yantachka of Charlotte
Those who voted against H.883:
Bartholomew of Hartland Batchelor of Derby * Beyor of Highgate Bouchard of Colchester Branagan of Georgia Browning of Arlington Burditt of West Rutland Burke of Brattleboro Campion of Bennington Canfield of Fair Haven Connor of Fairfield Conquest of Newbury Cross of Winooski Dakin of Chester Davis of Washington * Devereux of Mount Holly Donaghy of Poultney Donahue of Northfield Fay of St. Johnsbury Feltus of Lyndon French of Randolph Goodwin of Weston Grad of Moretown Greshin of Warren Haas of Rochester Hebert of Vernon Helm of Fair Haven Higley of Lowell Hooper of Montpelier Huntley of Cavendish Johnson of Canaan Kilmartin of Newport City Komline of Dorset Krebs of South Hero Larocque of Barnet Lawrence of Lyndon Malcolm of Pawlet Manwaring of Wilmington Marcotte of Coventry Martin of Springfield Mook of Bennington Moran of Wardsboro Morrissey of Bennington Pearce of Richford Pearson of Burlington Poirier of Barre City Potter of Clarendon Quimby of Concord Scheuermann of Stowe * Shaw of Pittsford Shaw of Derby Smith of New Haven Stevens of Shoreham Strong of Albany Terenzini of Rutland Town Toleno of Brattleboro Toll of Danville Van Wyck of Ferrisburgh Young of Glover Zagar of Barnard
Those who were absent for the vote:
Gallivan of Chittenden Hoyt of Norwich Hubert of Milton Klein of East Montpelier Marek of Newfane Martin of Wolcott Miller of Shaftsbury Mrowicki of Putney O’Sullivan of Burlington Partridge of Windham South of St. Johnsbury Trieber of Rockingham Woodward of Johnson

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