MONTPELIER -- A Vermont House committee approved a bill Friday calling for what its chairwoman labeled the biggest changes in the way Vermont’s schools are governed in more than a century.
The Education Committee voted 10-0, with one member not voting, for a proposal to set a minimum school district size of 1,200 students by 2020, or about four current districts.
It’s unclear whether the measure can make it through the legislative process before lawmakers’ expected May adjournment for the year. The bill goes to two more House committees before it would get to the chamber floor and would have to be vetted by multiple Senate committees before being voted on there.
Vermont has 285 school boards overseeing a public school system that has fewer than 90,000 students and is shrinking. Lawmakers have said that is too many, and that the result is duplication of school administration and not enough coordination of curriculum.
Experts say "we’ll end up with anywhere from 40 to 45" school districts, with that number of school boards governing them, said Rep. Joannah Leddy Donovan, D-Burlington and chairwoman of the Education Committee.
The combined school districts would be governed by one superintendent and one school board each, which Donovan said would allow for better curriculum coordination and avoid duplicative administration and other costs. Vermont’s current school supervisory unions now typically have a separate board for each elementary school and high school.
Donovan said it’s unknown whether the changes will lower education costs, but added that the change should slow the rate of cost increases.
Steve Dale, executive director of the Vermont School Boards Association, said his organization appears divided on the legislation. He said its 29-member board is to have a special meeting within the coming week and is expected to develop a position.
Some of the group’s board members "feel it’s time to create slightly bigger districts, which can more flexibly deploy resources to provide more equitable opportunities for students at a reasonable price," Dale said.
He added, "There are many who vehemently oppose this whole effort, seeing this as a direct assault on democratic process and local control."