David Clark is a member of Bellows Falls Union High School District 27 Board. However, the opinions he expresses are entirely his own.
Contact: david.clark@wnesu.com

 

These are materials formerly available on
The Alliance of Vermont School Board Members (ASBM) website

 

Press Release
5 PM, October 24, 2017
Contact: Jack Bryar , Research Director
jack.bryar@gmail.com 802-843-2735

VSBA Meeting Rejects Calls for Greater Accountability

In the face of opposition by the AVSBM and a continuing boycott by large numbers  of Vermont school boards, barely 30 voting members at the Vermont School Board Association Conference at the  Lake Morey Resort in Fairlee, Vermont, ratified a series of  Board-sponsored resolutions that called for greater restrictions and more state oversight of school boards, restrictions on union bargaining and approved an ALEC-sponsored bill designed to promote privatization.
By contrast, all the resolutions actually proposed by member school boards in the state were prevented from reaching the floor for a vote.

According to BFUHS Board Chair David Clark, it was, “Another terrible, self-inflicted wound by an organization that was supposed to be the voice of Vermont local school board directors. It is hard to imagine a more comprehensive rejection of the VSBA’s accountability to its member boards.”

Among the rejected proposals was a plea for greater representation by public school boards on the VSBA and a request that the state report out the real economic consequences generated  by Act 46.

David Schoales, a school board member from Brattleboro, said he was astonished that the the VSBA would not even go on the record to ask if Act 46 was achieving its goals.
"What does it say when the organization representing school boards does not want to even talk about having the legislature report on the fiscal effects of the Act 46?  The Vermont League of Cities and Towns included this in their 2018 VLCT Municipal Policy document for the upcoming legislative session.  Why not the school boards?"

In spite of the vote, most of the speakers at the conference spoke in opposition to the suppression of local board proposals and against the VSBA governing board-sponsored resolutions which , according to an attendee from Orange County, “Amounted to acquiescing to state-mandated cost cutting and distracted from the mission of  the VSBA.”
Clark added, “The Resolutions adopted by the VSBA can’t be taken seriously as representing the views of actual school boards. They would hobble school board’s ability to set budgets, to hire or replace staff, to conduct negotiations or even provide basic oversight of taxpayer money.  The VSBA resolutions amount to a declaration by The Vermont School Board Association that Vermont school boards are no longer competent to responsibly conduct their lawful business .”
The Alliance of Vermont School Board Members (The Alliance) which has been trying to reform the VSBA and make it more accountable to local boards, had circulated a white paper on the impact of the VSBA proposals. They pointed out that that several of the resolutions used language similar to anti-public school lobbying organizations such as ALEC, the Koch Brothers organization.

According to the Alliance the VSBA proposals would:

  1. Have the state take over benefits negotiations from local boards. Opponents said the proposal was designed to imply that local boards had failed to negotiate benefits responsibly and that anticipated property tax increases likely to take place in  many communities were the result of local board incompetence rather than a last minute clawback of money the state to pay for those benefits and projected reductions in state payments to local schools.Others suggested that setting up a special state council to negotiate benefits in place of local school boards would have little credibility and risk pitting board against board. 
  2. Have the state set up a  special task force to arbitrarily “recommend” staffing levels at local schools according an unspecified  school categorization system to be developed by state “policymakers”. The Alliance of Vermont School Board Members previously rejected the need for such a task force. The Alliance questioned the state’s competency to oversee such a program noting that the state’s initial formula penalized rural schools, schools who hired their own food services staff, and counted special educators in some communities and not in others.
  3. Have the state oversee the creation of another “stakeholder task force” that would limit the ability of school boards to negotiate early teacher retirements without making additional staff cuts. Alliance research suggested that the proposal would actually increase school operating costs in many locations.
  4. Have the state restrict fact-finding in teacher negotiations that would set up arbitrary formulas that would  make it nearly impossible for poor communities to be competitive in  attracting high quality teaching staff.
  5. Have the state create “guidelines” limiting school boards’ ability to use contingency funds or fiscal reserves to better manage school finances.
  6. Have the state set up “innovation districts” where school board oversight would be limited. The Alliance had noted that the language was identical to an ALEC proposal that would set up charter schools and exempt such school from an obligation to educate all students regardless of ability or handicap. 

According to the Alliance, the resolutions should not be taken seriously by the legislature or the public as representing anything other than the degree to which the VSBA has drifted from its mission to faithfully represent and advocate for school boards.

Local school board members should be outraged by overtly politicized resolutions designed to demonize school boards across the state and blame them for state failures to support public education. The Alliance will be sending its report on the VSBA resolutions to local school boards across the state to alert them to what is being said in the their name. They urge local school boards to contact their legislators as soon as possible.

For more information
Please go to the Alliance of Vermont School Board Members, AVSBM.org and download a copy of our report,
Recent VSBA Proposals Reviewed

About the Alliance
The Alliance of Vermont School Board Members is a statewide reform initiative of local boards across the state to advocate for local school boards and to champion their contributions to Vermont education and to our local democratic traditions.

 

Press Release, October 13, 2017
Contact Jack Bryar, Alliance of Vermont School Board Members
802-843-2735

Have the Koch Brothers and State Lobbyists Hijacked the Agenda of Vermont’s School Board Association?
An analysis by the Alliance of Vermont School Board Members (AVSBM.org, or “The Alliance”) of new proposals being offered for adoption by the Vermont School Board Association (VSBA) show that none of them were proposed or ratified by actual Vermont school boards. The proposals include model legislation developed by ALEC, the Koch Brothers organization that is dedicated to gutting public education. What all the proposals have in common is that they imply that school boards are incompetent or need increased guidance from an astonishing number of  new state councils, task forces, and officials in order to do a job they have been doing very well since 1892.

Grafton, Vermont

The Vermont School Board Association will be holding its annual meeting on October 19 at the Lake Morey Resort in Fairlee, VT.  Members of the Alliance of Vermont School Board Members will be sending attendees its review of an alarming set of new proposals developed by the VSBA’s Resolutions Committee.  In their present form, these proposals are , in the words of the AVSBM’s David Clark, “distinguished by the degree to which they disrespect, diminish and serve to disempower Vermont’s local school boards.”  The AVSBM recommends that local school board members read the proposals carefully and consider rejecting those that use deceptive language developed by the largest anti-public education lobby in the country.
And, they need to ask how such anti-school-board resolutions were drafted in the first place!

These proposals suggest that the school boards go on record saying they need:

  1. A special state council to negotiate benefits in place of local school boards
  2. A special task force to arbitrarily adjust staffing levels at local schools according a new school categorization system to be developed by state bureaucrats
  3. Another “stakeholder task force” to potentially limit the ability of school boards to negotiate early teacher retirements, even when this would help reduce local school costs.
  4. New state-developed restrictions on fact-finding in teacher negotiations that would set up arbitrary formulas and make it nearly impossible for poor communities to be competitive when attracting teachers.
  5. Even more state “guidelines” limiting the ability school board’s ability to use contingency funds or fiscal reserves to better manage school finances.
  6. A entirely new category of privately run schools and school districts, unaccountable to any elected school officials.

 

Taken together, these proposals are designed to defund,  discredit and disable the ability of Vermont’s school boards to perform their functions on behalf of  our local communities. What they all have in common is hostility to the very notion of democratic local control. They argue that school boards are incapable of staffing schools, of negotiating with unions, or for budgeting for a rainy day. The Alliance of Vermont School Board Members ask,
How on earth can these proposals be placed before school board members as if they represent any of our values?
They need to be rejected in total, as should any other proposals to take away school board control of local education.
School board members all struggle with many issues that merit thoughtful discussion at the VSBA and elsewhere. More than a few are the result of tone deaf state policies that ignore the contributions and expertise of local school board members.
But how can the state and the legislature understand our needs if we approve proposals that are inherently hostile to school boards and public education?
The Alliance of Vermont School Board Members urge its membership and the friends of education and local control across the state  to help defeat these embarrassing, school-board-hostile resolutions. Instead, let’s focus on what school boards say they need to do their jobs and  advocate for everything they do to help Vermont continue to produce a world-class education system that is already one of the best in the United States.

For more information,
contact the Alliance of Vermont School Board Members at 802-843-2735 or
go online at avsbm.org

Please also see the attached, document,
Recent VSBA Proposals Reviewed”

 

Press Release, June 27, 2017
Contact Jack Bryar, Alliance of Vermont School Board Members
802-843-2735

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

Jack Bryar
Grafton, VT
802-843-2735

 

VT Digger June 21, 2017
Randall Szott:Vermont School Board
Association is out of touch

https://vtdigger.org/2017/06/21/randall-szott-vermont-school-board-association-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.

Geo Honigford and the VSBA issued a truly disheartening response to the recent press release announcing the formation of the Alliance of Vermont School Board Members. It was disappointing, but did confirm how out of touch the VSBA is with its membership and with basic tenets of education and democracy.

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?

 


Archived Articles:
October, 2017
"Gutting Local Control"
-Rutland Herald Oct. 19, 2017

June, 2017
"Double-crossed by governor"
-Rutland Herald June 28, 2017

"Gutting local democracy"
-Rutland Herald June 22, 2017

"Opinion: Governor's granstanding"
-Burlington Free Press June 1, 2017

May, 2017
"Making a mess of teachers' health insurance"
-Eagle Times May 21, 2017

April, 2017
"Act 46 is fundamentally flawed"
-Brattleboro Reformer, April 12, 2017

March, 2017
"A bunch of baloney"
–Brattleboro Reformer, March 1, 2017

"Not suitable for publication"

"The problem with Act 46"
-Eagle Times March, 2017

February, 2017
"Act 46: the death knell of local control"
-Commons Online, February 22, 2017

Materials formerly available at
The Alliance of Vermont School Board Members (AVSBM) Website









 

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