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The Windham Southwest Supervisory Union, in collaboration with students, educators, parents and the community, is committed to developing 21st century learning and thinking skills through creative, rigorous, relevant, and comprehensive curriculum, while preparing students to be innovative, productive citizens in an interconnected world.



H361 Update

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Dear Vermonters for Schools and Communities,
As many of you are aware, education governance legislation H. 361 emerged from conference committee and was passed by both the Vermont House and Senate on Friday (5/15). Governor Shumlin supports the bill and is expected to sign it into law shortly.

Many organizations will be offering summaries and analysis of the 67-page conference committee’s compromise bill in the coming weeks. For the time being, here are a few notes.

• The bill offers some flexibility in governance structures. Although the bill’s “preferred” structure (which comes with financial incentives) is a K-12 district with at least 900 students and a single regional board, communities may choose to keep their local boards if they form supervisory unions with at least 1,100 students. This is an important improvement over the original House version that mandated the elimination of local boards and forced a one-size-fits-all structure. Many Vermonters including school boards, parents, teachers and community members, spoke out strongly on this issue, and to this degree your voice was heard.

However, the bill includes several major disappointments:

• State deadlines, state enforcement. Some communities will take the state’s incentives and reconfigure their districts or supervisory unions. However, many may continue as they are, hoping that the law will change. H. 361 states that 2019, if communities have not made adequate changes in the eyes of the State, the Secretary of Education and the State Board of Education will have the power to redraw the school governance map any way they want. If they choose, these appointees can abolish school districts, unseat elected school board members, and eliminate school board offices.

• Support for small schools is dramatically cut. Support for small schools is dramatically cut. Small Schools Grants will only be available to schools that take the "preferred option," or to geographically isolated schools (approximately 1/4 of the schools currently receiving the grants), or to those meeting an extensive list of requirements involving high poverty, efficiency and performance.

• A new cost-containment measure is not well analyzed. In a last-minute move, the conference committee adopted a complex system that will affect every district in the state. The idea behind this hastily adopted measure is to cap spending increases at 2% statewide, but to assign allowable spending increases to individual districts. Higher per-pupil spending districts have less leeway to increase spending, and lower per-pupil spending districts have more leeway to increase spending. None of the House or Senate committees responsible for taxing and spending policy had the opportunity to hear testimony or request analysis of the Joint Fiscal Office on the impact of this new measure on schools, taxpayers, the education fund, or other school finance factors.

V4SC is deeply concerned that, with stated goals of lowering school property taxes and streamlining governance, H 361 is instead likely to increase property taxes, close many small schools and/or weaken their connection to their communities, and alienate Vermonters from their education system.

House vote: The House passed the bill 83-50. To find out how your House member voted on H. 361, click here: http://legislature.vermont.gov/bill/roll-call/2016/119
Senate vote: The Senate voted on H.361 by voice, so no record is available of the final vote tally. However, the initial passage of the bill from the Senate into conference committee was 27-3. The three Senators who voted to oppose H.361 were: Senators Dick Sears, Anthony Pollina, and Dick McCormack.

Although we lost the battle to defeat this bill, your voice has been important in influencing its contents, whether you signed the petition or contacted your legislators directly.  Details will be worked out in implementation, and it is now imporant for your legislators to hear your concerns about their votes. (Remember to thank legislators who supported your viewpoint!) Click here to contact your legislators.

Your concern and valuable efforts on behalf of Vermont¹s schools and
communities are deeply appreciated.

Vermonters for Schools and Community Steering Committee
Chris Tormey, Chair
Beth Holtzman
Margaret Maclean
David Schoales
Debra Stoleroff
Marty Strange
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H361 Documents and Resources as of 5/11/15

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