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Legislative Notes for May 8, 2014

May 2, 2014

This was one of the busiest weeks I can recall in my nine years serving in the legislature. Each day was filled with intense debate and lasted well into the evening. A number of bills passed through the house, very few were controversial and I supported passage of most. I believe that the most important bill passed this week was H.883, a bill that intends to transform Vermont’s education system.

H.883 Expanded kindergarten-grade 12 school districts was by far the most controversial and potentially the most important bill of the week, if not the session. It had been in the works for several months and went through a number of renditions before actually making it to the floor on Tuesday. The bill sets in motion a process to reduce the number of school districts from over 260 to 45-55 by the year 2020. It contains $2-3 million dollars in new spending per year to implement the plan. This is a substantial investment but, I feel that the potential return is well worth the investment. This is the first time that I can recall where the legislature actually acknowledged that Vermont’s current school governance system is not affordable nor is it sustainable. This bill only passed by 13 votes, 75-62 and the division for support was determined by whether you represented a district that has small schools or large schools. I supported this bill because I think that it has the potential to change the direction of Vermont’s education system.

Superintendent John Barone sent me an email last week seeking my support for this bill. His comments were very compelling so I want to share them with you:

“I’m writing all of you (Milton Representatives) today to urge you to support H883 – the so-called consolidation bill. I think of it more as an educational opportunity bill – providing coherence to a system that is anything but and allowing for a more cohesive educational structure within which to do the work we are all here to do — namely, ensure that all of our students receive the very best education possible.

I have no personal stake in this outcome as I am a Superintendent of a single school district. I have had the opportunity in my career to work at both the Supervisory Union level and now within a single school district. I urge you to support this bill because the lives of the students it will affect will be enriched by the outcome.

Four former Commissioners of Education, the State Board of Education, and the Vermont Principals Association all have gone on record in strong support of this bill. Recently Governor Shumlin added his name to the list of advocates. The Vermont Superintendents Association and the Vermont School Boards Association have been greatly invested in the outcome of this body of work. While neither superintendents nor school board members speak in one voice, the elements contained in H883 are consistent with the World Class Education Agenda, developed by the leadership of each group.

Please vote in support of H883 – future Vermont students will be the beneficiaries. They will thank you as I do now in advance of the vote.” John Barone Superintendent of the Milton Town School District

I want to thank John for sharing this information and also feel that we need to achieve better student outcomes, contain costs and become more efficient in providing educational services to all Vermont students. I can only hope now that the Senate has the same desire to reform our school structure.

I look forward to representing you and your concerns in Montpelier. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions, comments or concerns. I am very interested in hearing from you. During the session, I can be reached at the Statehouse by calling 1-800-322-5616 or by cell at 373-5960. My email address is dturner@leg.state.vt.us. My web-site address is http://www.donturnerjr.com. Thank you and have a great week.

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