As the final weeks of the 2017 Session wind down, legislative changes are moving quickly through both the House and Senate. Several items of interest to our area include changes to education legislation and increased tools for rural infrastructure and telecommunications. Two education bills most likely to impact our district are the Senate miscellaneous education bill S.130 and the Senate bill providing increased flexibility for achieving the goals of Act 46. Rep. Gannon and I have proposed amendments to each. Notable aspects of S.130 include:
- the creation of an Approved Independent Schools Study Committee to consider and make recommendations on the criteria to be used by the State Board of Education for the approval of an independent school,
- moves assessment of Vermont public schools by Secretary from every two years to annually
- House Education committee has added a weighting study which has to do with how the equalized number of students are calculated for each district.
We will propose an amendment to the weighting study that would do two things – first it would require the work be done by those who have the technical knowledge to make assessments about the current weighting system: Agency of Education, Joint Fiscal Office and the Office of Legislative Council. Second, consideration of an additional population density weighting would require utilizing research being conducted nationally by research and education intuitions.
Notable aspects of S.122 are flexibility in the creation of side-by-side districts, an extension on alternative structure proposals to six months after the Agency of Education has finalized the rules, decreasing the minimum number of students in a districts from 1100-900 and requiring the State board of education to list what districts it considers geographically isolated by September 30th of this year. Rep. Gannon and I have worked with a number of legislators from five other joint or union school districts which came together in advance of Act 46 through either joint contracts or by becoming union districts but lost their small schools grants as a part of the process. In our area this includes Whitingham and in our neighboring supervisory union this also includes Brookline and Newfane. The other districts are Rupert, Bridgewater, Elmore, Fairlee, Pomfret, Vershire and East Fairlee. These districts are being asked to further comply with Act 46 despite their purposeful merger actions prior to the state mandaes included in Act 46. Small school grant eligible districts that merge under Act 46 are able to keep their small schools grants as incentives. We are asking for these 10 districts to be afforded the same incentive if they take the further steps necessary to comply with Act 46.
In addition to these contemplated pieces of education legislation, Governor Scott has made a proposal to take advantage of a once in a lifetime opportunity to make a statewide spending cut. As a result of the Affordable Care Act or “Obama care”, all teachers in the state of Vermont are about to see a change in the healthcare plans available to them. The Governor has proposed that Vermont take this unique opportunity to have healthcare benefits for teachers negotiated at the state level. The purported annual savings are 26 million dollars a year. The Vermont School Boards Association and Superintendents Association have both offered support for this proposal. It is virtually impossible to propose statewide cost cutting measures in education that don’t produce wide varieties of impacts for students and learning opportunities. This proposal is one of the first I can recall. Impacts from this proposal would include teachers unions having to bargain locally and as a statewide unit. The savings this proposal might produce are currently being considered as part of a means to increase funding for higher education and childcare.
There are a number of very important votes coming up. In Wardsboro there will be a revote on the Act 46 merger with Dover and Marlboro on May 1st 2017. In Windham Southwest Supervisory union all districts will be voting on Act 46 proposals on May 31st.
Representatives Chip Conquest (D‐Newbury) and I introduced House bill H.459 which provides a process for creating flexible, inter‐municipal districts that may finance, build, acquire, own, and operate community‐based infrastructure to enhance local economic opportunities. These are known as REDI (Rural Economic Development Infrastructure) districts.
Originally conceived as a better way to obtain financing for high‐speed broadband networks in areas too small or too fragmented to consider forming communications union districts enabled in Act 411, it is apparent that REDIs may also be used for other economic development projects in agriculture, local food systems, alternative energy, and other sectors. This language has been incorporated into S.135 which is an omnibus economic development bill. We are hopeful for passage this year.
The legislature appear to be on track for a May 6th adjournment. Thank you to all who have reached on to communicate on issues regarding domestic violence, marijuana, and automobile inspections. Please stay in touch! My cell phone number is 802-384-0233 and my email is firstname.lastname@example.org. I am posting updates on other legislative actions we are taking at http://www.laurasibiliavt.com.