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Watch: Vermont PBS’ Vermont This Week

Vermont Press Bureau chief Neal Goswami joins the panel on Vermont PBS’ Vermont This Week. HEADLINES:
Syrian Resettlement Opens Vermont Divide
Smith Ends Campaign for GovernorSanders Defines Democratic Socialism
Marijuana Legalization Bill Taking Shape
Lawmakers Consider Revising Act 46
Swanton Voters Reject Turbines
Stewart Ledbetter, Moderator
Paul Heintz, Seven Days
Neal Goswami, Vermont Press Bureau
Robin Smith, Caledonian Record Continue Reading →

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School spending thresholds might undergo “tweaking”

Jeff Francis and Nicole Mace address the House Education Committee.

MONTPELIER – Spending thresholds for school budgets might undergo some “tweaking,” but a repeal seems unlikely. Members of the House Education Committee on Wednesday expressed reservations in repealing a provision of the state’s school district merger law intended to curb spending, but were open to making changes to the threshold formula. The committee – which, during the last legislative session crafted Act 46, which seeks to merge school districts with the goals of reducing costs and expanding educational opportunities – took testimony from a host of education experts who spoke in opposition to a provision intended to cap education spending statewide at 2 percent for the next two years. “The provision was put in because of the widespread agreement that property taxes are burdensome to Vermonters,” said Committee Chairman David Sharpe, D-Bristol. “I’ve heard widespread concern that it won’t put downward pressure on property taxes because they (the districts) will be forced to spend above the threshold and will be forced to spend more in property taxes.”

The spending threshold formula looks at a district’s per-pupil spending and compares it to the current fiscal year’s statewide average of $14,096. Continue Reading →

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Retirements impact Agency of Education

Agency of Education Secretary Rebecca Holcombe (Courtesy photo)

MONTPELIER — The Agency of Education is reviewing its priorities and deciding what services it will no longer be able to offer after losing staff members to a retirement incentive program. As the agency works to implement Act 46, the state’s new school district merger law, it is doing so with five fewer members of its staff, which will leave the agency unable to provide the same services it has in the past, says Education Secretary Rebecca Holcombe. “There are some things we’re just not going to be able to do,” Holcombe said Tuesday during the monthly meeting of the State Board of Education. “We’ll just have to be highly strategic in how we target our staff.”

Earlier this year, the Shumlin Administration proposed offering financial incentives to encourage employees who were eligible to retire to do so, part of an effort to balance the 2016 state budget. The offer was open to as many as 300 employees and was projected to save as much as $2.6 million dollars, with the plan contingent upon the requirement that 75 percent of the positions being vacated would remain unfilled. Continue Reading →

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Commentary: School boards rise to the occasion


he overwhelming support for school district unification demonstrated by the voters of Essex, Essex Junction and Westford this week is reflective of the visionary leadership of the school boards in those communities. As the three communities stated in their unification plan presented to the voters, “[We are] guided by the commitment to enhance learning opportunities and equity for all students and to find efficiencies within our educational system that respect the financial investments of our communities and taxpayers. … We can deploy our resources to better support the journey of the student when we are able to plan for the entire journey, and allow the resources to be strategically aligned with our common mission and vision to prepare our students for the next stage of their lives in a rapidly changing world.”

This commitment to equity, increased student opportunity, and cost effectiveness is not unique to these school boards or communities – it is a shared commitment of the school boards of the State of Vermont. Over the past several years the Vermont School Boards Association (VSBA) has been engaged in a serious dialogue with our members regarding the best public policy approaches to address declining enrollment, rising costs, increasing numbers of students with significant learning needs, leadership turnover, and growing inequity in student opportunity. Continue Reading →

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VSC seeks more state funds, expects little


MONTPELIER — The Vermont State Colleges system is looking for $4 million in state funding for capital projects, a fraction of the $62 million in deferred maintenance across the college system. Thursday afternoon, the VSC Finance and Facilities Committee adopted a resolution to ask the Legislature for the money to make a host of repairs across the five colleges, but the panel expressed skepticism the system will receive anywhere near the amount being requested. “We do this, knowingly,” said committee Chairman Churchill Hindes. “We don’t have starry eyes and unrealistic expectations.”

Hindes and others are skeptical because, for a number of years now, VSC trustees have requested $4 million from the Legislature and each time received $1.4 million. With that track record in mind, college officials say the alternative is to assess fees on students to pay for the most necessary projects. Continue Reading →

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School test scores show decline in proficiency

BARRE — Education officials are warning the public not to jump to any conclusions just because the latest K-12 standardized test scores show a decline in proficiency. On Monday, the Agency of Education released scores for the newest incarnation of standardized testing known as the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC), which is intended to measure proficiency of students in grades three through eight — and grade 11 — the fields of math and English. Overall, proficiency in English ranged from a low of 51 percent in grade four to 58 percent in 11th grade. Math scores, on the other hand, showed a near-steady decline across grades, from 52 percent proficient in grade three to 37 percent in grade 11. These scores are lower than those from the last round of testing, said Michael Hock, director of assessment for the Agency of Education. Continue Reading →

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Shumlin to campaign for Clinton in New Hampshire

Gov. Peter Shumlin is heading to the Granite State to stump for Hillary Clinton’s plan to overhaul the way higher education is paid for. Shumlin will travel Monday to New Hampshire to address crowds in Claremont, Hanover, Peterborough and Portsmouth, where he will discuss Clinton’s recently released plan calling for free public education, and includes steps to reduce student debt. “In today’s economy, a college education is prerequisite to a good job and entry into the middle class,” Shumlin said. “Hillary Clinton has a plan to help ensure that costs won’t be a barrier and debt won’t hold anyone back from obtaining a necessary higher education.”

Thursday, Clinton released a plan to allow students to graduate from an in-state public college without any debt. The plan also calls for lower interest rates for federal student loans and for the ability of current borrowers to refinance at a lower interest rate. Continue Reading →

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Merger Talks Stall

BERLIN — Some school districts on the fast track to merge will have to wait a little longer for clarification of a controversial aspect of the new consolidation law. The State Board of Education voted Tuesday to table discussion of a motion that would have offered guidance to two potentially merging school districts if one offers school choice and the other does not. The issue arose following a memo issued in July by Greg Glennon, the Agency of Education’s general counsel, who asked the State Board of Education to address what appears to be a conflict between existing law and Act 46 — which was approved by the Legislature and signed into law this year — that calls for the merger of most of the states nearly 300 school districts by 2020. The potential for conflict occurs when two districts with opposing policies about school choice look to merge. “This appears to be a case of the Legislature having spoken, but we aren’t sure what they have said,” Glennon wrote in a memo to the State Board of Education, asking for clarification. Continue Reading →

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Shumlin administration sees more staff changes

MONTPELIER — Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner David Mears is is leaving the Shumlin administration to rejoin the faculty of Vermont Law School. Mears, who joined the administration in 2011, helped spearhead Gov. Peter Shumlin’s effort to pass clean water legislation during the last legislative session. He will return to VLS as the director of the Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic, the position he previously held at the school. Deputy Commissioner Alyssa Schuren will take over the department’s top spot on August 10. Agency of Natural Resources Secretary Deborah Markowitz said Mears is leaving the state and the department “better than he found them.”

“From the Lake Champlain clean-up plan, to cleaning up polluted industrial sites so that they could again serve as community assets, David’s leadership has helped Vermont advance our shared environmental mission,” she said. Continue Reading →

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Capitol Beat 5-11-15


Barre-Montpelier Times Argus Editor Steve Pappas and Vermont Press Bureau chief Neal Goswami discuss the sexual assault case against Sen. Norm McAllister, R-Franklin, the last week of the session and Bernie Sanders. Continue Reading →

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