Lawmakers Demand Secretary of Education Clarify Position on Education Weighting Study or Face Possible Litigation  

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE November 14, 2017

WILMINGTON, VT – State Representatives Laura Sibilia (I-Dover), John Gannon (D-Wilmington) and Ben Jickling (I-Randolph) sent a letter to Secretary of the Vermont Agency of Education Rebecca Holcomb seeking clarification on the Secretary’s position on completing the mandated weighting study contained in Act 49.  A recent article quoted the Secretary as saying, “We do not expect to initiate or complete the mandated weighting study contained in Act 49 until we have capacity to do so.”  If the Secretary refuses to complete the study, the Vermont General Assembly’s Legislative Council has confirmed that seeking an enforcement action through the courts is appropriate in the absence of some other adequate alternative for enforcement of the Act 49 Education Weighting Study.

The Education Weighting Study called for in Act 49, Section 35 passed the Vermont Senate by a vote of 27-0 on May 5, 2017 and passed the Vermont House of Representatives on a voice vote on May 5th 2017.  Governor Scott signed Act 49 into law on May 23rd 2017.  The weighting study is due to the House and Senate Committees on Education, the House Committee on Ways & Means, and the Senate Committee on Finance by December 15, 2017.  The final weighting study contained in Act 49 included language proposed by Representatives Sibilia, Gannon and Jickling in H.274, An Act Relating to Rural Schools.

Sibilia said: “There are a whole host of conversations that are connected to this study that we could and perhaps should be having, including the chronic under staffing of the Agency of Education by multiple Administrations, the obvious need for additional human and research resources when reorganizing the entire governance structure of education in Vermont, or the fact that our rural towns are struggling with a lack of resources themselves.  But now is not the time for those conversations or arguments about the merits of the study or resources needed.  Now is the time to figure out how the study that was mandated by the Vermont Legislature and signed by the Governor into law gets done.”

Gannon said: “If the Governor did not want the weighting study conducted, he could have simply vetoed the legislation. Thus, I can only conclude that the Secretary’s actions appear to be deliberate effort by the Scott administration to challenge the authority of the legislature.

Jickling said: “The challenges facing rural Vermont schools are unique and systemic. The administration’s refusal to follow through on legislative action is counterproductive and stifles progress towards a more sustainable and fair funding model.”

CONTACT

Rep. Laura Sibilia

(802) 384-0233

Rep. John Gannon

(802) 490-4327

Rep. Ben Jickling

(802) 595-5285

# # # # #

Advertisements

Rep. Laura Sibilia 2018 session survey

Goose City

Greetings from Goose City!

We are winding down from soccer with our son and looking forward to the holiday return of our girls.   I’m thinking more and more about the coming legislative session, and there are a number of public input sessions I want you to know about further on in this email.

This year I’m hoping you will consider giving some brief input prior to the the legislative session which begins January 3rd and will likely go through early May.  I’ve compiled a brief 10 question survey which is designed for you to weigh in on what areas you’d most like the legislature to spend their time on.   There are a few additional questions about issues that could emerge during the 2018 Vermont political discussion.

This survey is intended for my constituents in Dover, Readsboro, Searsburg, Somerset, Stamford, Wardsboro and Whitingham, but our weekend residents and neighbors are free to weigh in.  The only required questions are name and town of residence.

Take the survey

I have scheduled two meetings with constituents in Dover and Wardsboro and hope to see you there:

  • Dover Town Hall November 28th 6:30-8
  • Wardsboro Town Hall November 30th 6:30 – 8

In addition I will be attending the Stamford School District meeting on November 14th from 7-9 pm.

And the Twin Valley, Whitingham, Wilmington meeting with Rep. John Gannon in Wilmington on December 19th at 6 pm.

——————————————————————-

Upcoming statewide hearings of interest:

Rural Caucus Hearing: The Rural Development Caucus will hold a Public Hearing at the State House from 5–7 pm on Tuesday, November 7 to hear from municipal, business, education, and nonprofit interests in rural Vermont about what the most pressing issues are for rural Vermont. The press release and instructions on how to testify are available here.

Equifax data security breach: The House Committee on Commerce and Economic Development will meet to hold hearings around the State to discuss issues related to privacy and data security breaches. Representatives from the Attorney General’s Office, the Department of Financial Regulation, and the Office of Legislative Council will join the Committee in presenting a brief summary of current law and recommended responses to security breaches.

The Committee will hear from the public their questions, experience with breaches, concerns, and suggestions. This topic is a continuation of the Committee’s work last session, and of particular interest in light of current events in relation to the Equifax breach.  A list of meeting dates and locations is available below. Sign-up will begin 30 minutes prior to the hearing’s start time.

Thursday, November 9th

12:30 p.m. Springfield Town Offices Selectmen’s Hall 96 Main Street Springfield, VT
5:30 p.m. Barton Village Office 17 Village Square Barton, VT

Tuesday, November 14th

12:30 p.m. Manchester Community Library Hunter Community Room 138 Cemetery Avenue Manchester Center, VT
6:00 p.m. Department of Health Conference Room 2B 108 Cherry Street Burlington, VT

 ————————————————————-—

December 15th deadline – Open Enrollment: Open enrollment is the time of year when you can make changes to your Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Vermont or MVP Healthcare insurance coverage. The new plan year begins January 1, 2018. If you want to change plans, you should call the Vermont Health Connect Customer Support Center or log into your account. If you don’t contact them and confirm a plan choice by December 15, 2017, you likely won’t be able to change plans until the next Open Enrollment.

——————————————————————-

Education:

As you may recall, former Rep. Oliver Olsen and I have been fighting for years to commission a study of pupil counting, as we believe that the current system unfairly harms rural districts with small population densities, and we fought hard to have this study included in an act of the General Assembly.  We were finally successful in the 2017 session.
There is a fight brewing with AOE on whether or not this study will be done.  Right now they are refusing.
The chronically flawed funding formula which does not scale for size, the failure to capitalize on last year’s unique opportunity for significant savings through establishing statewide equitable healthcare benefits for education staff, increases in healthcare costs, the pending Act 46 incentives and other non-locally voted on expenses are going to result in yet another increase in property taxes this year.
Without changes to the way we count students, it is a virtual certainty that rural districts will be asked to make more substantial cuts then more population dense districts, once again unfairly and unequally hurting kids.  This study is the next important “tweek” needed for Vermont’s broken education financing mechanism.  It has been needed for many many years.  There is near universal consensus this formula does not work.  I am frustrated with the lack of transparency at all levels of state government about the non-local drivers of education property taxes.
Perhaps with last weeks news out of Whitingham there is light at the end of this very long tunnel for our taxpayers and our students.
——————————————————————-
Some positive economic development progress stories from our district:
——————————————————————-
As always, thank you for providing feedback and suggestions. Please don’t hesitate to call or email with questions or if you need assistance navigating government services at (802) 384-0233 or lhsibilia@gmail.com.
img_8155

Congratulations to all of the organizers and volunteers of this year’s Gilfeather Turnip Festival in Wardsboro – beautiful weather and record breaking turn out!

Session end in sight

IMG_6790

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 lhsibilia@gmail.com.  I am posting updates on other legislative actions we are taking at http://www.laurasibiliavt.com.

House to vote on S.79 ~ An act relating to freedom from compulsory collection of personal information

constitutionA month ago, Governor Phil Scott  announced a series of steps his Administration is taking to protect the rights of all Vermonters, following executive orders from President Trump relating to immigration and refugee resettlement.

Here is a link to read S.79, legislation which directly supports the Governor’s actions and which has passed the Senate unanimously 30-0 .  When the Legislature reconvenes after the Town Meeting week break, the House will take up S.79, which is expected to pass, though not unanimously.  I will support the bill, and have engaged our local law enforcement.  The Governor’s office has prepared a frequently asked questions sheet with regard to Vermont’s actions.  Please call me with any questions you have 802-384-0233.

Public Meeting February 22 on CoverageCo cellular resiliency sites in Whitingham, Readsboro and Halifax

On Wednesday February 22nd, Reps. Laura Sibilia and John Gannon will host a public meeting from 6:30 – 8 pm at the Jacksonville Municipal Center, 2948 Vermont Route 100, in Jacksonville, VT.  The purpose of the meeting will be to hear from the Vermont Department of Public Service about the Vermont EDA  funded Resiliency Project, a disaster recovery project created in the wake of Tropical Storm Irene to provide rural communities with critical, limited, cellular communications and internet.

That project is being implemented by CoverageCo out of Lexington, MA.  Vanu Bose of CoverageCo will be on hand to talk about the project’s purpose, obstacles the company has encountered, hear residents ideas about getting more people using the network, how towns might positively impact the project going forward, and the high level, financial costs and revenues associated with each site.  Residents from Whitingham, Readsboro and Halifax are encouraged to attend.

The pace of things and #WomensMarchVT

The size and window of opportunity that exists when all of Vermont’s legislators come together for the winter months is truly significant. We have the opportunity every day to meet and work with our colleagues from around the state and members of the Administration on solving problems for Vermonters.  This week I have been busy working with my colleagues to establish a Rural Vermont working group, consider appropriate legislative changes to Act 46, travel home to Dover midweek to meet with my fellow Act 46 study committee members to host our second public input meeting, learn more about a rural cell service project that is in jeopardy, talked with multiple perspectives about universal background checks, coordinated a conference call for seven Southern Vermont towns to learn more about financing fiber to the home projects, participated in multiple discussions around school choice, civility and the crushing burdens some state education finance policy is placing on our rural schools.

I am grateful to be able to work full time on these challenges and many more for my district during these four months.  While the long work days are rewarding and invigorating,  I also look forward to my ride back to Dover on Friday night and my weekends at home with my boys.

This weekend I am still in Montpelier.  Today I am going to march with other women in our Vermont capitol.  The specific individual motivations of the marchers here will be varied and numerous.  Mine are to stand with my daughters, people of color, a free press and the LGBT community.  I also stand with those who march today in the right to life parade in Montpelier and their First Amendment right to express their religious beliefs.

First weeks in the Vermont House

“We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

On Wednesday January 3rd the 2017 Legislative Session opened.  Among the first items to take place were elections of new leaders for the Vermont Legislature.  In the House, Rep. Mitzi Johnson of South Hero was elected to serve as the new Speaker of the House.  In the last biennium, Rep. Johnson was the Chair of House Appropriations.

Timg_6373he Speaker assigns all members of the house to various committees which is where the bulk of our work is done during the legislative session.  This year a few of the committees were modified, and a new committee focusing on Energy and Technology was created.  This committee will have jurisdiction over both the Public Service Board and the Department of Public Service, energy, IT projects, and telecommunications.   This is the committee I will serve on for the next two years.  I’m really pleased we now have a committee tasked with focusing on state technology infrastructure and Vermonters telecommunications needs.

**********

Issues that look likely to receive some attention this year include financing water quality improvements, health care finance, universal

img_6406

background checks, State Board of Education rule-making authority, marijuana decriminalization, paid family leave, Act 46 timelines, Housing and 10 yr telecom plan.  We’ll know in May which of these or other issues were able to move through the legislative bodies.

I have been spending much of my time on local transportation challenges, broadband and cell access, government transparency and school finance issues in our district, region and state.

**********

Just after the election I was honored to be asked to Co-Chair an advisory committee for incoming Governor Phil Scott.  This committees charge was to assist in bringing forward names of individuals who shared Governor Scott’s vision of affordability and service to work in his administration.  Hundreds of names were placed into consideration and the new cabinet is filling out.   There are also a number of Boards and Commissions posts to be filled in the coming year.  If you are interested in serving in one of those posts, more information is available here: http://governor.vermont.gov/boards-commissions

img_6379Governor Phil Scott will propose a budget on January 24th.  Just after being sworn in, he signed four executive orders, establishing his strategic priorities, and creating teams in support of his efforts to address the opiate epidemic and modernize state government.

 Executive Order 01-17, “Governor’s Strategic Goals,” directs all State agencies and departments to utilize their powers, duties and programs to establish strengthening the Vermont economy, making Vermont more affordable, and protecting vulnerable Vermonters, as cornerstones of their strategic and operational goals.

Executive Order 02-17, establishes the Opiate Coordination Council and also creates the position of Director of Drug Policy, who will act as the executive director of the Council to support, coordinate and monitor its progress.

Executive Order 03-17 established the Government Modernization and Efficiency Team (GMET). Executive Order 04-17 created the Program to Improve Vermonter Outcomes Together (PIVOT), which will be tasked with implementing and tracking progress of the

The Vermont School Boards Association maintains a map of progress with links to Act 46 study committees work around the state http://www.vtvsba.org/#!act-46-map/q4i59

The Vermont School Boards Association maintains a map of progress with links to Act 46 study committees work around the state

recommendations issued by GMET.

**********

The Dover, Marlboro, Wardsboro merger study committee is in the midst of hosting a number of public meetings.  These are important opportunities for our taxpayers, parents and students to ask questions and provide feedback on the proposed merger in advance of a vote at this year’s Town Meeting.  The public hearing dates are open to anyone from the any of the towns:

  • January 12  6:30pm – 8pm Marlboro Elementary School
  • January 19  6:30pm – 8pm  Dover Town Hall
  • January 23  6:30pm – 8pm  Wardsboro Town Hall
  • February 2  6:30pm – 8pm Wardsboro Town Hall
  • February 13 6:30pm – 8pm Marlboro Elementary School
  • February 27 6:30pm – 8pm Dover Town Hall

**********

I am honored to represent you in the Vermont Legislature.  In order to do so effectively, I need to hear from you about ideas, issues or opportunities.   My cell phone is 802-384-0233 and my email is lhsibilia@gmail.com.

Happy New Year
Best wishes to you and your family for good health and happiness in the New Year.

14956043_10154800053348313_507928364907914517_n
– Representative Laura Sibilia
Dover, Readsboro, Searsburg, Somerset, Stamford, Wardsboro, Whitingham

~ some personal reflections ~

This past year I finished my first term representing you in the Vermont Legislature, and was elected to a second term. This was a tremendous honor, and I will continue to work hard to represent you with passion and integrity.

It became abundantly clear that connectivity to our rural areas was not happening as promised. Strong education, healthcare and businesses activity in our district can not happen without much improved internet and cell availability. This will be a major focus for me in my second term, as well as supporting some really dedicated and entrepreneurial volunteers in our towns who are working to organize local connectivity efforts.

This past Spring, my youngest daughter, enrolled as a junior in the UVM nursing program, contracted into the UVM ROTC program and will commission into the U.S. Army in May of 2018.

My long time friend and mentor Ann Manwaring retired after a decade in the Legislature. Her passion, intellect and attitude will be sorely missed by many in the House, especially me!

My son, who still mostly only moves with a soccer ball at his feet, also spent the last 5 weeks of the Legislative Session with me at the State House as a Page – quite a memorable event

Wardsboro students and volunteers were rewarded for two years of hard work and repeated testimony when the native Gilfeather turnip was officially named the Vermont state Vegetable!

After years of hard work and dedication, my eldest daughter graduated from St. Micheal’s College. She is staying in the Burlington area and contemplating law school.

At the end of the session, I came back full time to my job as Director of Economic Development at BDCC and worked with a truly awesome team of folks who are passionate about growing the Southern Vermont region economy and our workforce.

I made it to the Pacific Coast for the first time this past Spring visiting my
world traveling sister in beautiful Seattle.

My husband TJ proved to be a tireless campaigner during my re-election campaign and still kept our son, the indoor soccer team, our puppy Chewbarka, rolling along smoothly through it all.

I was surprised and honored to have been asked by Governor-elect Phil Scott to Co-Chair his Transition Leadership Advisory Committee – helping find candidates to serve in the incoming Administration.

National and State primaries saw some that I voted for winning and some not. Two things are certain: things are going to change at the state and national level, I’m going to to keep you appraised of the changes and work hard, with you, to protect and assist our district, our state and our nation.

Thank you for all of your support and engagement this past year – I look forward to working with you in 2017!

Some eventful photos from the year

Lisa Sullivan of Bartleby’s testifying on the Vermont Downtown Program

lisatestimony

Southern Vermont Zone Committee testifies in Legislature

zonecommittee

Wardsboro students and Friends of the Wardsboro Library’s Anita Rafeal doing a television interview

wardsborotv

Jeff Lewis and Jenn Stromsten of the Vermont Futures Project testify

jeffandjenn

Accomplished snowboarder Griffen MacFayden visits the State House for a resolution read in his honor.

griffin

Casey with the other Legislative Pages

caseypage

Sammy contracted with the UVM ROTC to commission into the U.S. Army in 2018

swearingin

End of an era (beginning of another!) with my friend Rep. Ann Manwaring

ann

Graduate!

steviegraduation

Seattle with my Yogi sister

seattle

Dover, Wardsboro and Marlboro vote to former an Act 46 study committee

doverwardsboroact46

5 years and still waiting ….

vtel

November 9th!

signs2016

Laura Sibilia for VT | 802-384-0233 | lhsibilia@gmail.com |

Encouraged

F576_Laura dover 73114Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you are almost certainly right.  Setting high expectations is an optimistic vote of confidence that a goal is achievable.  I’m honored to represent so many people, school districts, businesses and towns that “think they can” and possess the Vermont optimism which allows us to take on big challenges without fear.  I’m honored that these same folks “thought I could” and elected me as their representative two years ago.  Representing a rural district heavily impacted by the recession and Irene, I have been immensely encouraged by the collaborations, recovery and growth we are seeing in our district.  Stamford reaching out to work with Readsboro on improving internet service, Searsburg and Stratton working to partner on Act 46 to keep school choice for their students, Dover working for years with neighboring Wilmington to finally complete the Valley trail connecting villages and resorts or Dover and Wardsboro working together to determine if they can offer their students more opportunities.  And of course the long term efforts of Whitingham and our neighbors in Wilmington to keep and improve their schools.

Two years ago I decided to run to make sure all of that collaboration and effort happening locally also had a hard working champion in Montpelier.   Whether it was working to have southern Vermont  identified as a special economic development zone in need of additional investment and re-population measures, challenging the federal government to ensure it’s broadband stimulus funds were actually providing internet service to our towns, or negotiating in protections for our small schools and having anti choice provisions stripped from Act 46, my efforts, every day, have been laser focused on helping our district.  As the State Representative for Dover, Readsboro, Searsburg, Somerset, Stamford, Wardsboro and Whitingham it has been my intent to provide you with the type of representation I expect for myself: ethical, transparent, responsible, accountable, and non-partisan.  I ask for your support of my re-election as your State Representative, and your continued belief and effort to working together and continue to move our Deerfield Valley forward.