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.