By Mary Barrosse Schwartz
Executive Director, VBR Research & Education Foundation
H. 361, a bill designed to improve educational governance in Vermont is now Act 46, as signed into law two weeks ago. As many of you already know, this act is intended to move the State toward more sustainable models of education governance by July 1, 2019 that, among other things, provide substantial equity in the quality and variety of educational opportunities and maximize operational efficiencies.
The act sets a statewide nonresidential and homestead property tax rate and blocks growth of budgets past a certain percentage, but more significantly requires school boards to work together to create merged districts through an expedited or slower process. The act provides financial incentives and disincentives to spur local change.
Vermont debated governance legislation for many years, with the Roundtable actively supporting the bills during the last two sessions. While the act is not perfect, it does provide incentives for local boards to pull together to make tough decisions.
As implementation of this landmark legislation rolls out this summer and fall, VBR and the VBR Research & Education Foundation will provide information to support communities through a new website and a policy and student outcome report card.
However, implementation will be challenging. It is hoped that school boards will not simply address the new law by changing the borders of existing school districts. A public conversation must include the development of education goals for communities, including identification of the barriers to success for schools and students, and clear action steps to better results.
Another challenge is the way some Vermont towns pay tuition for their students to attend school outside of the school district. The new law requires district to merge with similar districts to form one of four main organizational types. In one supervisory union (SU), the impact could be that some of the member districts with high school tuitioning to a local academy are consolidated into one new larger district, while the SU also adds a new district that has two towns with preK to 12 tuitioning. The result would be a new SU with two or more school districts, meant to replace the existing districts.
In other education legislation, the 2015 Budget Bill included language to create a Blue Ribbon Commission on Financing High Quality, Affordable Child Care. The Governor’s office has reached out to the Roundtable to fill the three business leader slots on the Commission. Please email me if you are interested in serving, at [email protected]