The Alliance In The News
• Press Release, June 27, 2017. Jack Bryar
• Rutland Herald - A new voice
• VT Digger - Randall Szott: Vermont School Board Association is out of touch
• VPR - Frustrated school board members form a new statewide organization
• Alliance Press Release
• Rutland Herald - Vt. school boards seek a new voice
• PBS Newshour - To cut costs and strengthen public schools, Vermont plans massive consolidation
• VT Digger - Rumble Strip Vermont: Our School
Press Release, June 27, 2017
Contact Jack Bryar, Alliance of Vermont School Board Members
Last week, the Vermont School Board’s Association and the Vermont Superintendent’s Association issued a joint press release called “Statement on Health Insurance Negotiations and FY 2018 Budgets” denouncing what they called the "disruptive" and "damaging"plan to strip money out of local school budgets passed last March.
It is a remarkable document given the fact that the VSBA, in particular, was deeply complicit in the process right up until its strategy came to its embarrassing conclusion. Both the process and the conclusion exposed the VSBA and Superintendent Association's disastrous strategy of playing political games with the Scott administration without getting the backing of the school boards they claim to represent.
The VSBA, in particular, had been working closely with Governor Phil Scott for months. They had enthusiastically signed on the Governor’s suggestion that the VSBA to negotiate directly with the Vermont NEA State leadership on teacher health benefits on behalf of school boards, without the inconvenience of asking school boards what they thought of the idea.
This unwillingness to work with the school boards they claim to (but do not) represent was exposed this week when the Governor successfully bullied the legislature to ignore the VSBA and reduce State payments to school districts using an arbitrary, yet-to-be determined formula based on speculation as to how much money those districts might saved if they were to negotiate teacher health benefits in a way pleasing to the Governor.
According to their press release the Governor’s office imagines that there could be a savings of up to $25.00 to $75.00 to homeowners, a reduction of roughly two cents on the State-Wide property tax. Unfortunately, local school board members, not the Governor's office, will now be saddled with the task of finding these imaginary savings.
The public needs to appreciate that the timing of this proposal makes the job almost impossible for many districts. What little discretion local boards had over their budgets evaporated months ago. As of April, the bulk of Vermont school boards had already sent out all their contracts for the next school year! In addition, most school boards sign multi-year agreements with their unions and cannot break these agreements in order to renegotiate health benefits without violating labor laws. Everyone involved, including the governor and the VSBA knows that they have placed local boards in a position where it will be nearly impossible to achieve these theoretical savings in the upcoming school year.
Once again, community school boards are simply being made into a whipping boy for a deeply irresponsible process dedicated to damaging the local governance of Vermont public schools.
In their recent press release, VSBA staffer portray themselves as victims of a diabolical doublecross. However, from the moment that the VSBA abandoned their boards and went off on a political adventure that would have taken away the power of locally elected officials to negotiate benefits with their teacher and staff, they made possible the current mess that local boards find themselves saddled with.
Their release states, “the perspective of local officials have not been sought in the current closed-door negotiations between the General Assembly and the Scott Administration”. Most school board members from across the state would say that "the perspective of local officials" has not been sought by either by the Governor's office or by the VSBA since well before the legislative session began.
The Alliance of Vermont School Board Members has an alternative explanation. It is that the Governor and the legislature, watching the VSBA's antics in recent years and its leadership's utter abandonment of local school boards, concluded, correctly, that the VSBA could not rally school members in a timely or effective manner and that their protests could be ignored without any consequences.
Vermont schools are among the finest in the United States. Our elected school boards are a major reason for that educational quality. They represent both our democratic values and our community's priorities. All together they constitute the largest body of educational expertise to be found in Vermont government. They deserve to have a credible, effective advocate that actively seeks to represent them and celebrate their contributions to the people of our state. The Vermont Alliance of School Board Members is dedicated to providing all school board members with a collective voice that can help safeguard responsible, local, democratic governance of our educational system.
For more information go to the Alliance of Vermont School Board Members website at avsbm.org
Rutland Herald June 21, 2017
A new voice
Many school board members around the state, discontent with state education policy, believe they have been sold out by the organization that is supposed to represent their interests.
As a result, they are forming a new organization with the hope it will give voice to the views of school board members who have not been willing to buy in to the party line.
The new group is called the Alliance of Vermont School Board Members. Members of the new group say that the Vermont School Boards Association has become a vehicle for policy emanating from Montpelier, rather than a voice for school boards or their actual members.
One cause for unhappiness among school board members is Act 46, the school consolidation law, which is causing school boards across the state to explore ways to merge districts and consolidate school governance. It is a bitter irony, in the eyes of some school board members, that the Vermont School Boards Association has supported policy that is causing the demise of Vermont school boards.
Another cause for unhappiness is the push by Gov. Phil Scott to seize control of negotiations over teachers’ health care benefits. The fact that the Vermont School Boards Association favors Scott’s plans is indicative to the dissenters of the association’s willingness to undermine local school boards in favor of state authority over the schools.
That a clash has erupted among school board members ref lects how governance of our schools has evolved over the years, leading to a potent political clash pitting state power against local power. As education has become more bureaucratically encumbered, governance of our schools has become ever more complicated. Superintendents have gained significant power, and school boards are usually happy to defer to them, letting the central office take on more and more responsibility.
As central offices have taken on more power, a caste of education professionals, mostly dedicated to the good of Vermont’s schools, has been in the driver’s seat. Vermont’s schools are highly ranked, and it’s owing in part to the professionalism of our educational leaders.
But it is an unwieldy structure. In many districts, superintendents must deal with a half dozen or more separate boards. The school consolidation law might have been called the give-your-superintendent a-night-off law. Merging a half dozen boards into one, by abolishing school boards in the diverse towns of a supervisory union, made organizational sense.
But the push for passage of Act 46 was a dishonest enterprise. Former Gov. Peter Shumlin promised he would not impose a top-down solution, but it was his intention to do so the whole time. His education secretary, Rebecca Holcombe, spoke of holding open and respectful conversations about options for schools, but behind the kind words the Agency of Education held in reserve a hammer to force compliance to the demand for consolidation.
In some districts, consolidation was a natural, and it has proceeded apace. But in many parts of the state neither board members nor voters want to abolish their boards or close their schools, and they resent the coercion of the state and the bureaucratic doubletalk used to smooth the way.
The Vermont School Boards Association is the vehicle of those boards that, in alliance with the superintendents, are happy to speed Vermont along the way toward top-heavy superboards and shuttered small town schools. They have the best intentions and think they know best. Many of the good professionals who leading Vermont’s high-quality schools are part of the effort.
But a lot of school board members believe they have been abandoned. They remain loyal to their local communities and respectful of the ties that exists between voters and local schools, through local school boards. That’s why they have formed a new organization.
Vermont’s educational structure is unwieldy, but Vermont teachers have done a good job anyway. Changes are appropriate in some places, where small schools are no longer affordable and where educational opportunities have dwindled. But the professional caste needs to remind itself that local education in Vermont is grounded in local democracy, woven into the life of the state’s communities. The new voice for state school board members is providing that reminder.
VT Digger June 21, 2017
Randall Szott:Vermont School Board Association is out of touch
Editor’s note: This commentary is by Randall Szott, the spokesperson for the Alliance of School Board Members. He a writer, educator and chef who lives in Barnard.
They open by characterizing the AVSBM’s role as being “to provide school board members with an alternative voice on public policy matters.” However, the AVSBM will exist to provide an actual voice because it is being formed as a grassroots organization rather than employing the top-down methods of the VSBA. The VSBA’s response provides a link to their bylaws which confirms their tone-deaf reading of the anger and mistrust they have generated. They, like many Act 46 merger committees around the state, have a fundamental misunderstanding of what democratic community engagement entails. Their proceduralism is an empty gesture – posting notices, forming committees and subcommittees, electing officers and delegates, and introducing resolutions are all fine, but they are lifeless signifiers of democratic governance without a felt commitment by stakeholders. It is akin to saying that having land and a tractor makes you a farmer while providing no account of the actual stewardship of the land or living things on it.
This approach only exacerbates inequality; it is the problem, not the solution.
As to the alleged “progressive agenda” of the VSBA, Honigford links to a document titled “Agenda for a World Class Education” which has little to do with anything progressive. Just as Honigford and the VSBA have recently made clear with op-eds and media appearances, the document openly expresses hostility toward collective bargaining using the same stale rhetoric that corporations use to keep tighter control of their workers. Even more telling is that the document was produced in collaboration with the Vermont Superintendents Association, proving once again the need for the AVSBM to be an independent voice for Vermont’s school boards rather than an organization that conspires with the Agency of Education and the VSA to implement their decidedly non-progressive educational policies. The “Agenda for a World Class Education” reads like a rehash of data, technology, accountability and testing-driven policies that have failed throughout the country and are intended not to produce robust, critical citizens, but to train compliant workers for a global economic system. This approach only exacerbates inequality; it is the problem, not the solution.
Honigford’s boilerplate closing is particularly sad because it shows no self-reflection, saying, apparently without irony, that “that there is strength in working together.” Unfortunately, the VSBA is “working together” with the AOE and the VSA to eliminate the people they ought to be working with and for: local school boards. Their advocacy for school consolidation is a primary motivation for the formation of the AVSBM, and is also a direct violation of their purported mission of “…supporting all school boards to serve as effective trustees for education on behalf of their communities…” It takes some nerve to advocate for eradicating school boards and small schools throughout Vermont while making such a claim. What further evidence does anyone need that the Vermont SBA has abandoned its mission, and that Vermonters who truly care about Vermont schools and what makes them special for students and their communities should band together to provide the leadership that the VSBA only provides lip service for?
VPR June 21, 2017
Frustrated School Board Members Form A New Statewide Organization
Frustrated with the stance taken by the Vermont School Board Association on issues like Act 46 and statewide teacher health care negotiations,some school board members have taken the step of forming a new group. It's called the Alliance of Vermont School Board Members.
As issues relating to school budgets take center-stage in Montpelier, one of the organizers of the group, Jack Bryar, spoke to Vermont Edition about why the Alliance was formed and what the organization's goals are.
Listen to the conversation above. Broadcast during Vermont Edition on Tuesday, June 20, 2017 during the noon hour; rebroadcast during the 7 p.m. hour.
June 14, 2017
Announcing an Alliance of School Board Members
Grassroots Effort to Explore the Formation of a New Group to Represent School Boards
A grassroots group of Vermont school board members and educational advocates are calling for the creation of an alliance to represent the views of the over 1,000 democratically elected school board members who have helped make our state’s public schools among the best in the country.
Members of school boards from across the state have proposed the formation of the Alliance of Vermont School Board Members, (avsbm.org) dedicated to ensuring that the voices of all school boards and lacommunities in the state can be effectively heard when it comes to the formation of public policies. The Alliance proposes to conduct a series of regional forums to collect the views of the state's school boards and plans to query individual boards across the state about their needs and policy recommendations.
The alliance was generated by a statewide meeting in Westminster Vermont, in May and is formed by school board members who are frustrated with educational legislation and the role of the Vermont School Boards association in lobbying in support of that legislation. They expressed concern that the VSBA had walked away from its mission to represent and advocate for the state's school board members and this was making it increasingly difficult for Board members to successfully advocate for their community’s schools. They suggest that an Alliance of School Board Members is needed to provide that advocacy.
According to former VSBA board member David Schoales, “The bottom line is that the Vermont School Board Association (VSBA) has become a top-down organization promoting an agenda emanating from Montpelier. Schoales, currently a school board member from Brattleboro, said “VSBA has shown a lack of faith in its own membership. We don’t believe a state school board association should push so aggressively to eliminate scores of local schools boards, and suggest that the dedicated, voluntary services of hundreds of local school directors don’t add value to our school system. Even more disappointing is their claim that board members with years of experience are suddenly too incompetent to negotiate basic health care benefits.”
Jack Bryar, a school board member from Grafton, Vermont said, “I sympathize with our legislators and state officials who are trying to develop thoughtful educational legislation and responsible policies. They deserve to have a partner dedicated to relaying the wide variety of experiences and perspectives of those elected officials closest to our state’s schools around Vermont. They don’t have that partner today. It is one reason that so much of our recent educational legislation has been unnecessarily controversial.”
The organizers invite all local school board directors looking for a responsive and supportive membership organization to join us in building this Alliance via a series of regional meetings to be held across the state in the next several months. They encourage board members from across the state to come and articulate their needs and priorities.
In addition to these meetings, the Alliance expects to send out a series questionnaires to school board members to identify their most immediate concerns and to place before local school boards a series of questions for their input and advice.
The Alliance will publish a website avsbm.org, early next week that will include a working schedule of proposed meetings, policy questions and other resources materials for local boards and board members.
They hope to hear from board members and local boards across the state and urge them to help create a democratic, responsive alliance of school board members that can advocate for the needs of our children, schools and our communities
Vermonters interested in attending these meetings or getting more information please contact us at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Rutland Herald / Times Argus
Vt. school boards seek a new voice
NEAL P. GOSWAMI, VERMONT PRESS BUREAU
School board members around the state are looking to launch a new alliance to represent the views of the more than 1,000 Vermonters who serve on local boards, saying the existing Vermont School Boards Association is not doing the job.
The group has proposed the creation of the Alliance of Vermont School Board Members. Their goal is to ensure local school board members have an effective voice in the development of education policy.
“The bottom line is that the Vermont School Boards Association has become a top-down organization promoting an agenda emanating from Montpelier,” former VSBA board member David Schoales said.
Schoales, who serves on a school board in Brattleboro, said VSBA has not represented local boards well.
“VSBA has shown a lack of faith in its own membership,” he said. “We don’t believe a state school board association should push so aggressively to eliminate scores of local school boards and suggest that the dedicated, voluntary services of hundreds of local school directors don’t add value to our school system.”
Schoales added, “Even more disappointing is their claim that board members with years of experience are suddenly too incompetent to negotiate basic health care benefits.”
Nicole Mace, executive director of VSBA, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
The proposed new alliance comes as Republican Gov. Phil Scott pushes a plan developed by the VSBA to move negotiations for teacher health contracts from the local school board level to a single negotiation at the state level. Scott vetoed the state budget and a property tax bill passed by lawmakers last month over the issue. Lawmakers will return next week to the State House for a two-day veto session and continue to negotiate with the governor.
The idea for the alliance grew out of a meeting of school board members from around Vermont held in Westminster last month. Jack Bryar, a school board member from Grafton, said attendees were concerned with the VSBA’s role in lobbying for some policies in Montpelier.
“Part of the problem is that it’s a bit of a dialogue of the deaf from our perspective,” he said. “The governor and the Legislature and the VSBA are all having a discussion without the inconvenience of talking to actual school board members.”
The discussion about teacher health care contracts “is certainly an example of the kind of tone-deaf conversations that are happening in Montpelier,” Bryar said. “We listen to this stuff with amazement and wonder who is speaking for us.”
Many school board members across Vermont have experienced “a bit of a loss of faith” in the VSBA, according to Bryar. He said the group is a “great” service organization that provides legal advice, but is not focused on representing the interests of local boards.
“ Perhaps that could change, but right now there’s an immediate need to put forward an alliance for the state’s school board members,” he said.
The group is planning to launch a website next week and hold a series of regional forums around the state to gather views from individual school board members as well as policy recommendations from boards.
PBS NEWSHOUR May 31, 2016
Video features Suzie Hull Parent, a key person that worked to defeat that merger in all 5 towns in FNESU.
VT DIGGER Nov 29, 2015
In this edition of the podcast Rumble Strip Vermont, conversationalist Erica Heilman explores some of the fallout that some rural communities fear from a law the Legislature passed last year, Act 46. The purpose of the law was to try to control education costs in an era of shrinking student population by consolidating school districts and possibly, down the road, closing schools, particularly in rural communities.