Speech delivered May 17 to the Vermont House of Representatives by Rep. Heidi Scheuermann, R-Stowe:
On Feb. 7, this body overwhelmingly passed House Bill 39 by a vote of 134-10. This was followed by passage in the Senate, by a vote of 27-3, a modified version of the bill.
If you recall, H.39, as passed the House, would have allowed a number of school districts that were under order by the State Board of Education to merge the opportunity to extend the merger deadline of July 1, 2019, to July 1, 2020. As passed the Senate, the bill would have given all districts under order to merge that option.
Unfortunately, even with those overwhelming majorities voting in favor, since that time the legislation has been slow-walked to its certain death, to the delight of the Agency of Education, and two organizations we all know well (and of which our local supervisory unions and school boards are members).
In my 13 years serving in this body, I don’t know if I have been more frustrated and disappointed.
I knew well at the beginning of this session that leadership preferred not to take up the issue of a merger deadline extension — though I, and many others in this body from across the political spectrum, succeeded in convincing this body to move forward on a bill. The situation was similar in the other body.
To be clear, the differences in the two versions of the bill are not insurmountable. I’ve seen much more difficult negotiations happen, and the parties come to consensus.
Frankly, it is unconceivable to me that these kinds of negotiations did not happen on this bill, and that, point of fact, our conferees even walked back from the very bill that this body approved.
To be certain, this bill was important to many of us. I know many in this body do not have a forced merger happening in their districts, so may not understand how imperative it was that we be given more time, so I will quickly try to express that now.
While the communities being forced to merge are all in different situations and at various points in the process, in our particular situation, we were proceeding down a dual path.
We were appealing the decision of the State Board of Education to merge our districts, while at the same time preparing for the forced merger. At this time, our legal case has been dismissed and our local boards have decided not to appeal that decision, so we continue to move forward on the merger.
But this merger of two districts, especially coming on the heels of a so recently merged district (Morristown and Elmore), should have been given the time to do it well and to do it right. We have two very strong, capable school boards, both of which have the best interests of all of our students at heart, but this shotgun merger will do an incredible disservice to those exact students.
I am confident our hard-working school boards will do this work (and they’ll even do it by July 1, 2019), but they really deserved to be given proper time to put a merger together in a way that makes sense for all of our students and our dedicated faculty.
In addition, it is important that, as we moved forward with a merger, our communities understood precisely the process, what a merged district would look like, and how a merged district would specifically work. That is not the case at this time.
As someone who has a great deal of experience trying to engage families and communities on issues of importance, I can assure you that to do this right, this process takes significant time. I can also assure you that our communities do not understand what is happening, and don’t have time to digest this incredible change, so we are going to see even more disillusionment and frustration with government than we see now.
I realize there is probably no chance of a resurrection of this extension legislation, and frankly, our local drop-dead date for a decision was May 22, so the slow-walk to the certain death of this bill has worked really well for those who never wanted it.
But, I simply felt it important, Madam Speaker, to share my incredible anger, frustration and disappointment with this entire process.
Heidi Scheuermann, a Republican, represents Stowe in the Vermont House of Representatives. Email letters to firstname.lastname@example.org.