Commentary

By Heidi Scheuermann, February 14, 2019

The prior two weeks of the legislative session were a rollercoaster ride for me and the legislative effort to extend the deadline for the involuntary mergers ordered by the State Board of Education under Act 46.

Ultimately, I am pleased to report that a proposal to provide a merger deadline extension of one year to approximately half of the districts that are under orders to merge, including our Elmore-Morristown and Stowe School Districts, received overwhelming support from the Vermont House (134-10), and has now moved to the Senate for its consideration.

Unfortunately, my initial proposal the prior day (built upon my effort over the first four weeks of the session) to ensure the local school boards of each of the districts being forced to merge were given the opportunity to extend their deadline by one year was defeated in an extremely close vote.  In my view, and in the view of our very broad coalition of lawmakers from across the political spectrum, it was critical that all of the local districts be given the option of extending if they felt the need to do so.  After all, the communities being forced to merge are all in very different situations and at various points in the merger process, and those of us making the decision for them in Montpelier don’t know the realities on the ground in each of those communities.

In the end, the successful vote last week is good news for our local school districts and our hard-working boards.  That said, this House vote is just the first step in the legislative process. We now have to do all we can to be sure the Senate advances the bill.

To be clear, this was not an issue that House leadership and the House Education Committee wanted to take up at all.  But, a broad coalition of legislators from across the political spectrum came together to demand action, and we are grateful leadership ultimately agreed that it was an important discussion and debate to have.

And, while I would have preferred the approval of the proposal I put forward that allowed for local decision-making on the timing of the forced mergers, I am very pleased that the committee and the House, both overwhelmingly, understood the need for an extension in the case of EMUU-Stowe and others, and moved the bill forward.

It was also rewarding to see all members of the Lamoille County delegation in the House come together on this issue.  I was proud that we held the flag of rural Vermont high in this controversial debate.  I especially want to thank Morristown and Elmore Representative, Dave Yacovone, for his commitment and perseverance.  His impassioned plea to his Democratic colleagues in a private caucus, in addition to his work with leadership made a real difference in the effort.

As this Act 46 work has continued, there has also been some important activity in the House Energy and Technology Committee, the committee on which I serve.  While the first two weeks were spent on overviews of items, including various departments and division of state government, utilities, energy facilities, cellular and broadband entities, and more, we have delved more deeply into specific issues over the last two weeks.  From the decarbonization study and energy efficiency efforts, to electricity, information technology and broadband and cell phone deployment, our committee has been – and will continue to be – exceptionally busy.

Through this time, it has become abundantly clear (to those who hadn’t already realized) that one of the most critical issues facing Vermont – rural Vermont especially – is the lack of high-speed broadband access and cell phone coverage.  Many of us have known this challenge for many years, and even experience it firsthand.  But, it has historically been an incredibly difficult nut to crack in a rural state like Vermont.

I am pleased, therefore, that one of the highest priorities of our committee is to tackle this in a realistic and responsible way.  I will keep the people of this community and region posted as our efforts in this regard continue.

By Heidi Scheuermann, Commentary

https://www.stowetoday.com/stowe_reporter/opinion/opinion_columns/heidi-i-m-pushing-to-delay-school-merger-for-a/article_575be890-2573-11e9-889e-3fd87a8c1202.html

The 2019-20 legislative biennium is well under way, and my primary focus these first three weeks has been doing all I can legislatively to provide a one-year extension of the July 1, 2019, involuntary merger deadline in Act 46.

Toward that end, our Act 46 Legislative Working Group — made up of dozens of legislators from across the political spectrum — is working diligently to educate members of the House and Senate Education Committees and the legislative leadership about why this extension to July 1, 2020, is so important.

First, given the three lawsuits in process right now, it is absolutely critical that we allow some time for the courts to weigh in. While I am not too familiar with two of the lawsuits, I believe strongly that the Elmore-Morristown and Stowe lawsuit against the state is a very strong one. And, if we are required to merge, and that merger is followed by a decision in our favor, it will be virtually impossible to unravel the newly merged district.

For that reason, it is important we allow time for the court to determine the validity of the decision by the State Board of Education to merge our districts.

Second, the merger of two districts, especially coming on the heels of a so recently merged district (Morristown and Elmore), takes time to do well, and to do right. We have two very strong, capable school boards, both of which have the best interests of all of our students at heart. A shotgun merger will do an incredible disservice to those exact students.

I am confident our hard-working school boards can do this work well, but they deserve to be given proper time to put a merger together in a way that makes sense for all of our students and our dedicated faculty.

In addition, it is important that, as we move forward with a merger, our communities understand precisely the process, what a merged district will look like, and how a merged district will specifically work. As someone who has a great deal of experience trying to engage families and communities on issues of importance, I can assure you that, to do this right, this process will take significant time.

I can also assure you that if our communities do not understand what is happening, and don’t have time to digest this incredible change, we will find even more disillusionment and frustration with government than we see now.

I am pleased to report that the House Education Committee and the leadership in both the House and Senate have agreed to consider our request, and I was invited in to testify in the House committee last week. By the printing of this column, I will have testified again, in addition to both Penny Jones of the Elmore-Morristown board and Cara Zimmerman, the chair of the Stowe School Board, the Lamoille South Supervisory Union School Board, and the Transition Board. So, I continue to be hopeful that we will be successful, though the very tight timeline is a challenge.

As the Act 46 work continues, so too does other important work.

Governor Phil Scott's Budget

Gov. Phil Scott last week outlined his fiscal year 2020 budget — a no-nonsense one focused in large part on addressing the demographic crisis and our state’s fiscal health. But, while in past years there has always been considerable consternation after a budget address, the tone of the governor’s speech this year was a collaborative one, so it was relatively well-received by the Democratic legislative leadership.

Of course, there are going to be significant disagreements in various policy areas throughout the next weeks and months, but I’m hopeful the budget address kicked off a new commitment to working together on the important issues facing out state.

Among other items, the governor’s budget proposal includes the following:

  • Applying the 92 percent tobacco tax to e-cigarettes.
  • Removing, over time, the income tax on pensions for retired military members.
  • Raising the estate tax exemption to $5.75 million, thereby encouraging more affluent Vermonters to remain in Vermont. (Vermont is only one of 12 states to have the estate tax at all.)
  • Eliminating the land gains tax.
  • Creating a paid family leave program for state employees, which would be open for all Vermont employers and employees to enroll into. (The Democrats have proposed a mandatory program paid for by a payroll tax on all employees in Vermont.)
  • An additional $1 million in funding for last-mile broadband.
  • An additional $7 million in funding for child care subsidies for low- and middle-income Vermonters.
  • An additional $3 million in funding for Vermont State Colleges.
  • Funding our clean water efforts by using $8 million of our estate tax revenue.

As always, as our legislative session progress, please feel free to contact me at anytime. I can be reached at 253-9314 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..  Please also be in touch if you are interested in receiving my more in-depth, regular email newsletters.

By Heidi Scheuermann, Commentary

https://www.stowetoday.com/news_and_citizen/opinion/opinion_columns/legislators-aim-to-delay-july-school-merger-deadline/article_4ac61be8-1a77-11e9-b8f6-23432478dd37.html

The Vermont General Assembly returned to Montpelier last week, ready to get to work.

In 2017, House Speaker Mitzi Johnson determined (correctly, in my view) that a standing committee in the House was needed to focus solely on energy and technology issues facing our state. Prior to this time, these critical issues were the jurisdiction of other committees whose work encompassed other significant issues, like the environment and economic development in general. As such, energy and technology items didn’t receive the proper attention.

While during its first biennium this new committee faced some growing pains, I am very pleased that the speaker appointed me to it this year, and am excited to work diligently on one of the priorities of our Stowe community, and the state in general — the issue of ensuring high-quality, reliable cellphone and broadband coverage.

It is absolutely critical to our state’s economic growth to put into place policies that will ensure coverage is developed and deployed broadly, efficiently, and effectively.

School Mergers

The other item on which I am focusing much of my effort at this time is the invalidation of the forced mergers that were part of Act 46, including the Stowe and Elmore-Morristown merger. I am pleased that there is a tripartisan group of legislators — legislators from across the political spectrum — who share my concerns about these involuntary mergers put into place by the State Board of Education, and we are working together diligently to educate our colleagues of these concerns.

The first goal is to obtain a delay in the July 1, 2019 merger deadline. Toward that end, I have two pieces of legislation for the House Committee on Education to consider. The first is a simple delay of the forced mergers until July 1, 2020, and the second is a moratorium on the forced mergers until the legal cases are adjudicated or July 1, 2020, whichever is later.

I hope the committee will agree to a hearing on one or both of those bills within the next two weeks. After all, considering the need to produce school district budgets now, we must move quickly.

Our legislative working group is also working on the Senate side, in the hopes that the senators, too, know and understand these very serious concerns, and address them accordingly.

Statewide Schools

Finally, following years of presenting education reform proposals that would reform both the education funding system and the education delivery system, I took a break from such proposals last biennium. Given the 2015 passage of Act 46 (without my support), and the State Education Plan that was to result from Act 46, I determined it was best to take a wait-and-see approach to the merger activities.

News last week, however, has returned my focus to this kind of reform. Specifically, a draft memo has been developed by the governor’s administration outlining a significant education transformation proposal:

  • Create one statewide school district with four regional school boards in place of all of our local school districts.
  • Provide for full school choice for students throughout the state.
  • Eliminate the State Board of Education.
  • Create one statewide teachers contract for all teachers, who would then be state employees.
  • Require a Parent School Committee for each school to advise the Principal on school operations.

While disappointing, this proposal comes as no surprise. This trend started with Act 60, the state takeover of the funding of K-12 education, and has continued each year as the Legislature — both Democrats and Republicans — have wrested more and more control from our local school districts and boards.

In fact, as this has happened each year, I have repeatedly argued that there are only two directions in which we can go with regard to education: a) the complete state takeover of education; or b) return some semblance of local control and local decision-making.

The administration draft memo puts the former on the table. I will do so shortly with the latter. Frankly, while I disagree with the administration on this, I am happy that we might finally have this debate about the direction of pre-K-12 education.

My alternative proposal will strengthen local school districts and local school boards; reconnect taxpayers to the budgets voted upon and money spent so that we have cost containment and property tax relief; and expand educational opportunities for our students.

We can, in fact, do these things, if we have the will to do so.

Of course, there are many more issues on which we will all be focused this session. If anything is of interest to you, please contact me with any questions or concerns. I can be reached at 253-9314 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Please also be in touch if you are interested in receiving my more in-depth, regular email newsletters.

November 28, 2018

I don’t recall a time during my service that I have been more ashamed of a governing body in Vermont as I am today of the State Board of Education (SBE).

I am grateful to SBE members Oliver Olsen, Callahan Beck, John Carroll and John O’Keefe for truly understanding the joint Alternative Governance Structure (AGS) proposal submitted by the Elmore-Morristown and Stowe School Districts, and for their support of it today. But, the final decision by the remaining members of the SBE to forcibly merge EMUU and Stowe — two very high-functioning school districts that both already separately meet, and even exceed, the goals of Act 46 in a cost-effective way, is as disappointing as it is wrong.

After all, following more than a year of study, both Stowe and EMUU districts agreed that the Alternative Structure is the best way to ensure the highest quality education for all of our students in the most efficient way. The Secretary of Education agreed, and recommended its approval. Yet, the State Board has now forced upon us a structure that is in neither of the school district’s best interests.

When Act 46 was proposed and advanced in 2015, this kind of action was my greatest fear, and why I fought so hard against the legislation. That Gov. Shumlin, his Secretary of Education, and the majority in the legislature in 2015 believed it was appropriate to give the authority to dissolve local school boards and local school districts to a body of nine unelected individuals, accountable to nobody, was exceptionally frustrating.

Rest assured, I will continue to do everything legislatively possible in the upcoming session to ensure we retain local control of our schools.

Finally, I want to thank and commend our districts’ School Boards and the Lamoille South Supervisory Union for their incredible work throughout this process. It has been a pleasure working with them since the beginning of this process, and by all measures, the AGS application should have been approved.

In addition to my upcoming legislative work to fight the forced merger, I look forward to continuing to work with the Boards as they move forward with legal action. I know we are committed to doing all we can to achieve results that are in the best interests of our communities and children.

By Heidi E. Scheuermann

October 4, 2018

https://www.stowetoday.com/stowe_reporter/opinion/letters_to_the_editor/i-worked-on-the-bill-then-i-supported-it/article_75dabe1e-c7e9-11e8-87d0-7f48d00e04e5.html

I feel compelled to respond to the letter in last week's Stowe Reporter from Melissa Sheffer in which she falsely accused me of voting agains the pregnancy accommodations bill, as this is simply not true.

In fact, I supported the bill as it passed and was signed into law.  Even more, I worked with the Attorney Genera's office to ensure the bill, which was a poorly crafted bill as it passed the House, was fixed before final passage.

Indeed, I was unable to support H.136, the Pregnancy Accommodations bill, as it first emerged from my committee and the House of Representatives for a very simple reason: It was an extremely poorly crafted bill.

The intent of the bill was admirable: to ensure that employers provide reasonable accommodations to an employee with a condition related to pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition if needed.

My years of working for U.S. Sen. Jim Jeffords on education and disability policy taught me a great deal about “reasonable accommodations.” The purpose of existing state and federal laws requiring reasonable accommodations is to remove barriers for individuals with disabilities. This is so that a disabled individual can work — can perform the essential functions of a job — and, therefore, enjoy equal opportunities for employment.

H.136, as it passed the House, would have greatly expanded these provisions in law. It would have essentially given pregnant women greater protections than any other employees, including individuals with disabilities.

Under current employment law, reasonable accommodations must be provided to a qualified employee with a disability if it will enable that employee to perform the essential functions of the job. H.136, as it passed the House, didn’t require the reasonable accommodations in order for the employee to perform the essential functions of the job. In fact, it might have even required a wholesale change in the job altogether.

Even more, the bill, as it passed the House, would have required employers of all sizes to provide, potentially, unlimited/indefinite amounts of leave to employees for any condition related to pregnancy, childbirth and related medical conditions.

To be clear, I absolutely support the ability of pregnant employees to continue working. But the House version of this bill essentially established a whole new class of worker — a pregnant woman — and would have provided rights to pregnant women above those for any other employee, including individuals with disabilities.

As the bill was being developed, and even after it passed the House, I expressed these very concerns. I even met with the assistant attorney general to share them, and asked that their office help to redraft the legislation to ensure it does not have any of these unintended consequences.

So, I was pleased that, with the help of the attorney general’s office, the Senate realized the failures with the House version of the bill and wrote a completely new version of it. That new version allayed my concerns, and I was happy to support the bill that became law.

Our campaign is exceptionally disappointed in these tactics of using false allegations to smear us. The information is all out there, readily available, and transparent, so there is no reason for this kind of false accusation.

https://www.stowetoday.com/stowe_reporter/opinion/opinion_columns/key-elements-are-missing-from-state-budget-proposal/article_403401aa-4ee3-11e8-b0ec-1b5ed0071467.html

... the fiscal year 2019 state budget is winding its way through the process, and without much debate at all, if any, passed the Senate earleir this week.  While I supported the budget as it emerged from the House of Representatives, I have some concerns about the Senate version of the bill.  Specifically, two of the investments I most want to see pass are not funded in the Senate-passed bill.

https://www.stowetoday.com/stowe_reporter/opinion/opinion_columns/a-night-occupancy-fee-is-back/article_93120ac4-43f4-11e8-a717-43a7b5d99019.html

We simply cannot make it more difficult for these small Vermont businesses to achieve success.

https://www.stowetoday.com/stowe_reporter/opinion/opinion_columns/minimum-wage-worthy-goals-but-may-bring-more-harm-than/article_3ba2b8fa-38f6-11e8-a20b-df2beb2ec34a.html

From what I understand, from the perspective of proponents of the mandated increase, the underlying goals are simple, and include: 1) reducing poverty; 2) reducing income inequality; and 3) putting more money in the pockets of low-wage workers so that things are more affordable for them.

Indeed, these are all very worthy goals. Unfortunately, this proposal will do little to address them.

https://www.stowetoday.com/stowe_reporter/opinion/opinion_columns/bill-levels-the-playing-field-for-brewers-and-distributors/article_772d4ae2-2de4-11e8-ac85-af48df7cfab5.html

After a great deal of consideration in the House General, Housing, and Military Affairs Committee, H. 710, a bill I co-sponsored that reforms Vermont's beer franchise laws as they apply to small brewers, passed the full House overwhelmingly last week.

A number of items continue to progress in the Vermont Legislature as we head toward Town Meeting Day Break.

The House General, Housing and Military Affairs Committee, the committee on which I serve, will soon be taking up the #1 priority of some of the Democratic leaders in Montpelier: the increase in the minimum wage to $15.00 per hour.

 

This legislation passed the Senate two weeks ago on a 20-10 vote.  Specifically, the bill proposes to increase the minimum wage to $15.00/hour over the course of the next six years.  While the implementation is now over six years, rather than four, this is still a very problematic proposal for our local small businesses.