Download this document in MS Word format
BILL AS PASSED BY HOUSE 2007-2008

AutoFill Template

H.526

AN ACT RELATING TO EDUCATION QUALITY AND COST CONTROL

It is hereby enacted by the General Assembly of the State of Vermont:

* * * Findings * * *

Sec. 1.  FINDINGS

(a)  Vermonters expect excellence from their schools and are justifiably proud of the state’s system of public education.

(b)  Vermont has demonstrated a commitment to equity in public school financing.  Nevertheless, the state cannot sustain public school spending at its present rate of growth. 

(c)  The general assembly acknowledges the commitment of school boards to managing costs under difficult circumstances.

(d)  The effect that a school funding system has on taxes should be more transparent.

(e)  It is important both to understand what Vermonters expect of their schools (including the expectations that are beyond the provision of traditional academic subjects) and to quantify the cost drivers that are causing increases in school budgets.  It is equally crucial to identify ways for schools to deliver these services more effectively. 

(f)  The general assembly should only make changes to the education system after careful consideration of the potential effect the changes will have on various factors, including educational excellence, the cost of public education, anticipated future demands on the education system, use of resources, the administration of schools, and community involvement.

* * * High Spending Threshold * * *

Sec. 2.  32 V.S.A. § 5401(12) is amended to read:

(12)  “Excess High spending threshold” means:

(A)  the per‑equalized pupil amount of:

(i)  the district’s education spending, plus any amount required to be added from a capital construction reserve fund under 24 V.S.A. § 2804(b); minus

(ii)  the portion of education spending which is approved school capital construction spending or deposited into a reserve fund under 24 V.S.A. § 2804 to pay future approved school capital construction costs, including that portion of tuition paid to an independent school designated as the public high school of the school district pursuant to 16 V.S.A. § 827 for capital construction costs by the independent school which has received approval from the state board of education, using the processes for preliminary approval of public school construction costs pursuant to 16 V.S.A. § 3448(a)(2); and minus

(iii)  the portion of education spending attributable to the district’s share of special education spending in excess of $50,000.00 in the fiscal year occurring two years prior;

(B)  in excess of 125 123 percent of the statewide average district education spending per equalized pupil in the prior fiscal year, as determined by the commissioner of education.

Sec. 2a.  32 V.S.A. § 5401(12)(B) is amended to read:

(B)  in excess of 123 120 percent of the statewide average district education spending per equalized pupil in the prior fiscal year, as determined by the commissioner of education.

Sec. 3.  32 V.S.A. § 5401(13) is amended to read:

(13)  “District spending adjustment” means the greater of: one or a fraction in which the numerator is the district’s education spending plus excess high spending threshold, per equalized pupil, for the school year; and the denominator is the base education payment for the school year, as defined in section 4001 of Title 16.

Sec. 4.  16 V.S.A. § 4011(h) is amended to read:

(h)  Annually, by October 1, the commissioner shall send to school boards for inclusion in town reports and publish on the department website the following information:

(1)  the statewide average district spending per equalized pupil for the current fiscal year, and 125 123 percent of that average spending; and

* * *


Sec. 4a.  16 V.S.A. § 4011(h) is amended to read:

(h)  Annually, by October 1, the commissioner shall send to school boards for inclusion in town reports and publish on the department website the following information:

(1)  the statewide average district spending per equalized pupil for the current fiscal year, and 123 120 percent of that average spending; and

Sec. 5.  16 V.S.A. § 4010(c) is amended to read:

(c)  The commissioner shall determine the weighted long-term membership for each school district using the long-term membership from subsection (b) of this section and the following weights for each class:

Grade Level Weight

Elementary 1.0

Secondary 1.25 1.13

Sec. 6.  16 V.S.A. § 4010(h) is added to read:

(h)  The commissioner shall evaluate the accuracy of the weights established in subsection (c) of this section and, at the beginning of each biennium, shall propose to the house and senate committees on education whether the weights should stay the same or be adjusted.


Sec. 6a.  SCHOOL DISTRICTS; ANALYSIS AND RECOMMENDATIONS REGARDING HIGH SPENDING

(a)  The commissioner of education shall explore and analyze the reasons school districts exceed the excess spending threshold defined in 32 V.S.A. § 5401(12) and develop recommendations for exempting school districts from the consequences of exceeding the excess spending threshold in the following circumstances:

(1)  The district has high costs for special education services, the department has recommended ways to lower the costs, the district has followed the recommendations, and the district still exceeds the threshold; or

(2)  The district has high costs for special education services, the department has been unable to identify ways to lower the costs, and the district still exceeds the threshold; or

(3)  The district pays tuition for all or most of its students to attend one or more schools outside of the district and the commissioner determines that it is not possible for the district to make alternative arrangements that would enable it to stay beneath the high spending threshold.

(b)  On or before January 15, 2008, the commissioner shall file a report with the house and senate committees on education and on appropriations regarding the recommendations required by this section.  The report shall include a detailed fiscal analysis of the recommendations and related draft legislation.  It shall also include an analysis of the effectiveness of 16 V.S.A. § 4028(c), which permits high spending districts to hire a budget consultant with money paid as a consequence of exceeding the threshold.

Sec. 7.  EFFECTIVE DATES 

(a)  Secs. 2, 4, and 5 of this act shall take effect on January 1, 2008 and shall apply to budgets in the 2008–2009 school year for school years
2008–2009 and after.

(b)  Sec. 3 of this act shall take effect on January 1, 2008.

(c)  Sec. 6 shall take effect from passage.

(d)  Secs. 2a and 4a of this act shall take effect on January 1, 2011, and shall apply to budgets for school years 2011–2012 and after.

* * * Special Education; High Spending Districts * * *

Sec. 7a.  16 V.S.A. § 2973a is added to read:

§ 2973a.  SPECIAL EDUCATION; BEST PRACTICES; POLICY

It is the public policy of the state that integrated special education services are recognized as an essential responsibility of the educational system that benefit all students and contribute to the good of the state.  This section and section 2974 of this title recognize that best practices in delivery of such services promote this policy.


Sec. 8.  16 V.S.A. § 2974 is amended to read:

§ 2974.  SPECIAL EDUCATION PROGRAM; FISCAL REVIEW PANEL OF HIGH SPENDING DISTRICTS

(a)  Annually, the commissioner shall report on:

(1)  special education expenditures by school districts;

(2)  the rate of growth or decrease in special education costs, including the identity of high and low spending districts;

(3)  outcomes for special education students;

(4)  the availability of special education staff;

(5)  the consistency of special education program implementation statewide; and

(6)  the status of the education support systems in school districts; and

(7)  a statewide summary of the special education student count, including:

(A)  the percentage of the total average daily membership represented by special education students statewide and by school district;

(B)  the percentage of special education students by disability category; and

(C)  the percentage of special education students by in‑district placement, day placement, and residential placement.

(b)  The commissioner shall review high spending districts to determine Annually, but no later than October 1, the commissioner shall notify high spending districts that they have been designated as such.  Each designated district shall respond within 60 days with an explanation of its spending to address whether:

(1)  costs could be decreased while still providing needed special education services;

(2)  the district made reasonable efforts to provide, purchase, or contract for goods or services that are the most reasonably priced yet appropriate for its students;

(3)  the district reported special education expenditures appropriately; and

(4)  all expenditures identified as special education expenditures were properly attributed to eligible students and the services for which the expenditures were made were included in the students’ individualized education plans

(1)  the district’s special education staff‑to‑child count ratios were higher than the state average, including a breakdown of ratios by staffing categories;

(2)  the percentage of students in day programs and residential placements exceeded the state average of students in those placements and, if so, information about the categories of disabilities for the students in such placements;

(3)  the district was in compliance with section 2901 of this title;

(4)  if the district’s proportion of its average daily membership who are enrolled in special education exceeds the statewide average by 20 percent, any unusual community characteristics contributed to this condition; and

(5)  any other factors affected its spending.

(c)  The commissioner shall review low spending districts to determine the reasons for their spending patterns and whether those districts used cost‑effective strategies appropriate to replicate in other districts.

(d)  For the purposes of this section, a “high spending district” is a school district that, in the previous school year, spent at least 20 percent more than the statewide average of special education eligible costs per average daily membership.  Also for the purposes of this section, a “low spending district” is a school district that, in the previous school year, spent no more than 80 percent of the statewide average of special education eligible costs per average daily membership.

(e)  For the purpose of advising the commissioner and providing technical assistance to school districts, the state board shall appoint a fiscal review panel of seven people who have expertise in the areas of data collection and finance, and in the fields of special education, business or health and human services.  The panel, at the request of a district school board, shall work with the department of education to review spending patterns and provision of special education services in the district and provide advice to the school board and staff concerning cost control mechanisms and cost‑effective practices.  In addition, the panel shall make recommendations on what types of data to collect for purposes of the annual report required under subsection (a) of this section, and how the data should be analyzed.  If after a review of a high spending district’s explanation, the commissioner finds that the explanation is not satisfactory, the commissioner shall conduct a performance review to include one or more of the following:

(1)  a review of the district’s special education student count patterns over time;

(2)  a review of the district’s compliance with section 2901 of this title and any unusual community characteristics that exist;

(3)  an on‑site review to examine a sample of special education student records and related financial and business records;

(4)  a review of the district’s compliance with federal and state requirements to provide a free, appropriate public education to eligible students; and

(5)  a review of other factors.

(f)  Within 60 days of completing the performance review, the commissioner shall notify the district in writing of his or her findings and whether the results of the performance review are satisfactory or not satisfactory.  If the results of the performance review are not satisfactory to the commissioner, the commissioner and department staff shall assist the school district to identify reasonable alternatives and to develop a remediation plan.  The district shall have two years to make progress on the remediation plan.  At the conclusion of the two years or earlier, the district shall report its progress on the remediation plan. 

(g)  Within 30 days of receipt of the district’s report of progress, the commissioner shall notify the district that its progress is either satisfactory or not satisfactory.  If the district fails to make satisfactory progress, the commissioner shall notify the district that, in the ensuing school year, the commissioner shall withhold 10 percent of the district’s special education expenditures reimbursement pending satisfactory compliance with the plan.  If the district continues to fail to make satisfactory progress beyond the first year of withholding, 10 percent shall be withheld in each year until progress is made to the satisfaction of the commissioner. 

(h)  The district may challenge the commissioner’s decision to withhold its special education reimbursement in the ensuing school year if, within 30 days of receiving the notification, the district files a written statement with the state board of education, outlining the reasons the district believes it made satisfactory progress on the remediation plan.  The commissioner may file a written response within 15 days after the appeal is filed.  The board may give the district and the commissioner an opportunity to be heard.  The board’s decision on the issue shall be final.  The state shall not withhold any portion of the district’s reimbursement before the state board issues its final decision.

(i)  Nothing in this section shall prevent a school district from seeking and receiving the technical assistance of department staff to reduce its special education spending.

Sec. 9.  16 V.S.A. § 2950(a) is amended to read:

(a)  School district reimbursement.  For the costs of educating a state‑placed student, the school district serving the child  The school district responsible for educating a state-placed student under section 1075 of this title shall claim and the commissioner shall reimburse the allowable special education costs other than costs for mainstream services as that term is defined by the commissioner.  In addition, reimbursable costs shall include 100 percent of all special education costs for the student, including costs for mainstream services.  As a condition of receiving this reimbursement, the district shall provide documentation in support of its claim, sufficient to enable the commissioner to determine whether to recommend appropriate cost-saving alternatives.  The commissioner may approve any additional costs approved by the commissioner which are incurred in educating a state‑placed student who is not eligible for special education and that are incurred due to the special needs of the student, and, if approved, the commissioner shall pay those costs.  When a student is placed in a new district, the district may request and department personnel shall provide consultative and technical assistance to the receiving district.

Sec. 9.  16 V.S.A. § 2950(a) is amended to read:

(a)  School district reimbursement.  For the costs of educating a state‑placed student, the school district serving the child  The school district responsible for educating a state-placed student under section 1075 of this title shall claim and the commissioner shall reimburse the allowable special education costs other than costs for mainstream services as that term is defined by the commissioner.  In addition, reimbursable costs shall include 100 percent of all special education costs for the student, including costs for mainstream services.  As a condition of receiving this reimbursement, the district shall provide documentation in support of its claim, sufficient to enable the commissioner to determine whether to recommend appropriate cost-saving alternatives.  The commissioner may approve any additional costs approved by the commissioner which are incurred in educating a state‑placed student who is not eligible for special education and that are incurred due to the special needs of the student, and, if approved, the commissioner shall pay those costs.  When a student is placed in a new district, the district may request and department personnel shall provide consultative and technical assistance to the receiving district.

* * * Extraordinary Services Reimbursement; Review Team * * *

Sec. 10.  [deleted]

Sec. 11.  [deleted]

* * * Collective Bargaining at the Supervisory Union Level * * *

Sec. 12.  16 V.S.A. § 1981 is amended to read:

§ 1981.  DEFINITIONS

As used in this chapter unless the context requires otherwise:

* * *

(2)  “Professional negotiations” means the meeting, conferring, consulting, discussing, and negotiating in good faith between a school board negotiations council and a teachers’ organization negotiations council or an administrators’ organization negotiations council to reach agreement.

* * *

(6)  A “teachers’ organization” or an “administrators’ organization” means an organization, committee, council, group, or separate unit thereof in which teachers or administrators participate and which exists, in whole or in part, for the purpose of professional negotiation.

* * *

(8)  “School board negotiations council” means, for a supervisory district, its school board, and, for school districts within a supervisory union, the body comprising representatives designated by each school board within the supervisory union to engage in professional negotiations with a teachers’ or administrators’ organization.

(9)  “Teachers’ organization negotiations council” or “administrators’ organization negotiations council” means the body comprising representatives designated by each teachers’ organization or administrators’ organization within a supervisory district or supervisory union to act as its representative for professional negotiations.

Sec. 13.  16 V.S.A. § 1991(a) is amended to read:

(a)  Teachers and administrators may select organizations to represent them on their negotiations council in collective negotiations with the school board negotiations council.  The school board shall recognize an organization as the exclusive representative of the teachers or of the administrators in the school district when that organization has proved its claim to sole and exclusive representative status of the respective group as hereinafter provided.  The superintendent, the assistant superintendent, and the principal shall not serve as negotiating agents for the teachers’ organization.


Sec. 14.  16 V.S.A. § 2001 is amended to read:

§ 2001.  GOOD FAITH

The negotiations councils of the school board and of the recognized teacher or administrator teachers’ or administrators’ organization shall meet together at reasonable times, upon request of either party, and shall negotiate in good faith on all matters properly before them under the provisions of this chapter.

Sec. 15.  16 V.S.A. § 2003 is amended to read:

§ 2003.  TIME TO BEGIN

The teacher or administrator organizations holding exclusive negotiating rights shall make a request for commencement of negotiations either to their school board or to the school board negotiations council no later than one hundred and twenty 120 days prior to the earliest school district’s district annual meeting conducted within the supervisory union.

Sec. 16.  16 V.S.A. § 2004 is amended to read:

§ 2004.  AGENDA

The school board, either directly or through authorized representatives through its negotiations council, shall, upon request, negotiate with representatives of the recognized organizations teachers’ or administrators’ organization negotiations council on matters of salary, related economic conditions of employment, an agency service fee, procedures for processing complaints and grievances relating to employment, and any mutually agreed upon matters not in conflict with the statutes and laws of the state of Vermont.

Sec. 17.  16 V.S.A. § 2005 is amended to read:

§ 2005.  WRITTEN AGREEMENT

The negotiations councils for the school board and the recognized teachers’ or administrators’ organization shall enter into a written agreement or agreements incorporating therein matters agreed to in negotiation.

Sec. 18.  16 V.S.A. § 2006 is amended to read:

§ 2006.  MEDIATOR

If, after negotiation has taken place on all matters properly before them, the negotiations councils for the school board and a negotiating teachers’ or administrators’ organization are unable to reach agreement on specific negotiable items, they may jointly agree upon the services and person of a mediator for the purpose of assisting them in reconciling their differences and resolving the controversy on terms which are mutually acceptable.  If agreement cannot be reached upon the person of a mediator, then either party may request mediation upon any and all unresolved issues to be conducted by the American Arbitration Association or its designee.  The parties shall meet with the mediator and make such information available as required.


Sec. 19.  16 V.S.A. § 2007(b) is amended to read:

(b)  The fact‑finding committee, which shall be activated as soon as practicable upon request, shall be composed of one member selected by the school board negotiations council, one member selected by the negotiating negotiations council for the teachers’ or administrators’ organization, and one member who shall serve as chairman chair, to be chosen by the other two members.  In the event that agreement cannot be reached on a third member for the fact‑finding committee, the American Arbitration Association shall be asked to appoint the third member.

Sec. 20.  16 V.S.A. § 2009 is amended to read:

§ 2009.  DELEGATION OF AUTHORITY

School The negotiations councils for school boards and negotiating for teachers’ and administrators’ organizations are empowered to delegate in whole or in part the responsibility for negotiation of the collective agreement to any persons they may choose.  However, final ratification of any agreement on behalf of the a school board shall remain the sole responsibility of the school board, unless the school board has agreed to binding interest arbitration pursuant to subchapter 4 of this chapter.

Sec. 21.  16 V.S.A. § 2021(a) is amended to read:

(a)  Arbitration shall only occur if both parties the recognized organization and one or more of the school boards agree in writing to submit to binding arbitration for one or more issues remaining in dispute.  An agreement to accept binding interest arbitration may not be revoked and shall apply only to the parties to the arbitration.

Sec. 22.  21 V.S.A. § 1722(18)–(20) are added to read:

§ 1722.  DEFINITIONS

For the purposes of this chapter:

* * *

(18)  “School board negotiations council” means, for a supervisory district, its school board, and, for school districts within a supervisory union, the body comprising representatives designated by each school board within the supervisory union to engage in collective bargaining with their school employees’ negotiations council.

(19)  “School employees’ negotiations council” means the body comprising representatives designated by each exclusive bargaining agent within a supervisory district or supervisory union to engage in collective bargaining with its school board negotiations council.

(20)  “Supervisory district” and “supervisory union” shall have the same meaning as in section 11 of Title 16.

Sec. 23.  21 V.S.A. § 1725(b) is amended to read:

(b)  The municipal employer shall be represented in the bargaining by its legislative body or its designated representative or representatives.  If the municipal employer is a supervisory district or supervisory union, it shall be represented by the school board negotiations council, and the bargaining unit shall be represented by the school employees’ negotiations council.

Sec. 24.  TRANSITIONAL PROVISIONS

(a)  Unless otherwise agreed to by the parties, collective bargaining agreements between school boards and their employees entered into before the effective date of this act shall remain in effect until their expiration and until the terms of the successor agreements are established.

(b)  Unless otherwise agreed to by the parties, collective bargaining agreements for which negotiations began prior to July 1, 2008, but which are executed after that date, shall remain in effect until their expiration and until the terms of the successor agreements are established.

(c)  School employers and employees beginning negotiations for a collective bargaining agreement after July 1, 2008 shall do so in accordance with the provisions of this act.

(d)  Nothing in this act shall prevent a school district and its employees from amending an existing agreement to expire on a date earlier than previously agreed to for purposes of entering into an agreement under this act. 

(e)  Nothing shall prevent an agreement negotiated under this act from containing staggered effective dates for the different districts within the supervisory union. 

* * * Statewide School Calendar * * *

Sec. 25.  FINDINGS

(a)  The general assembly finds:

(1)  School districts need to find ways to collaborate in order to maintain concurrent schedules, improve student learning, and reduce costs through sharing of resources.

(2)  Students learn best when provided educational services for uninterrupted periods of instructional time.

(3)  Educators can deliver instructional services more efficiently and effectively when schools are following the same vacation, holiday, and statewide assessment schedules.

(4)  Common professional development days provide educators the opportunity to participate in regional and statewide programs.

(5)  A uniform statewide calendar ensures better attendance at regional programs, such as technical centers.

(6)  The dates on which a school year begins and ends have great impact on families and businesses, as does the scheduling of in‑service days and vacation.

(b)  Therefore, it is the intent of this act to direct the commissioner of education to adopt a statewide calendar.  It is not the intent that the statewide calendar shall deviate from the traditional summer vacation period.

Sec. 26.  16 V.S.A. § 1071 is amended to read:

§ 1071.  SCHOOL YEAR AND SCHOOL DAY CALENDAR

(a)  Minimum number of days Statewide school calendarExcept as provided in this section, each public school shall be maintained and operated for  The commissioner shall develop a uniform statewide calendar for use by all public schools.  To develop the first year’s calendar, which the commissioner shall use as the model for future calendars, the commissioner shall engage in a public process with students, parents, educators, the business community, and other interested parties.  The purpose of the statewide calendar shall be to improve high quality learning opportunities for all Vermont students.  The commissioner shall announce the uniform statewide calendar by October 1 for the ensuing school year.  The calendar shall include:

(1)  at least one hundred seventy‑five 175 common student attendance days in each school year.  For purposes of this section, a majority of students enrolled in a school must be recorded on the school roll as in attendance on any day counted as a student attendance day.;

(2)  at least five common teacher in‑service education days, during which time activities shall be conducted without students present in order to increase the competency of the staff, improve the curriculum of the school, enable teachers to attend state educational meetings, or disseminate student progress information to parents or the community;

(3)  to the extent possible, common periods for statewide assessments;

(4)  periods of vacation and holidays so as to ensure uninterrupted periods of instructional time;

(5)  a sufficient number of makeup days to compensate for unanticipated closings.  

(b)  Hours of operation.  Within the minimum set by the state board, the school board shall fix the number of hours that shall constitute a school day, subject to change upon the order of the state board.

(c)  Unanticipated closings.  When a public school is closed for cause beyond the control of the school board it may petition the state board for a waiver of the requirements of this section.  The petition shall be filed with the state board within 10 days of each occurrence and not later than June 15 of the school year involved; and the state board shall act on the petition at its next meeting held five or more business days following receipt of the petition.  Action may include approval of the request, disapproval of the request, or postponement of a decision for a definite period in order to enable the district to schedule makeup days.  If the petition is approved and a waiver granted, the school district shall be deemed to have satisfied the requirements of this section.  If the state board fails to act at that meeting, the petition shall be deemed to have been approved and the waiver granted.

(d)  Unique community situations.  If a school district or group of school districts needs to deviate from the uniform calendar due to a circumstance unique to the community which cannot otherwise be accommodated, the district or districts may petition the state board for a waiver by January 1 for the ensuing school year, and the state board shall act on the petition at its next meeting.

(e)  Regional calendar.  Before April 1 of each year, the superintendents of schools and the headmasters of public schools not managed by school boards in an area shall meet, and by majority vote, establish a uniform calendar within that area for the following school year.  The calendar shall include student attendance days, periods of vacation, holidays and teacher in‑service education days and shall comply with subsection (a) of this section.  Unless permitted by the commissioner, no area served by a regional technical center shall be divided into two or more calendar regions.  [Deleted.]

(f)  Additional days.  Nothing in this section prohibits a school board from scheduling additional days for student attendance or teacher in‑service education.  However, those days shall not conflict with any applicable school displace or replace days identified as common student attendance days or common teacher in‑service education days on the statewide calendar.

(g)  Upon application of one or more school districts, after approval by the voters of each such district, the state board may grant a waiver of the requirements of subsection (a) if it is satisfied that equivalent educational programming will be maintained or improved.  The waiver may be granted for any purpose, including the conservation of energy.

Sec. 27.  EFFECTIVE DATE

The statewide calendar developed under Sec. 26 of this act shall be voluntary for the 2008–2009 school year and shall be mandatory for the
2009–2010 school year and each year thereafter.

* * * Commissioner of Education; Regional Support * * *

Sec. 28. 16 V.S.A. § 212(17) is added to read:

§ 212.  COMMISSIONER’S DUTIES GENERALLY

The commissioner shall execute those policies adopted by the state board in the legal exercise of its powers and shall:

* * *

(17)  Encourage and facilitate collaboration among school districts and supervisory unions to share information and expertise regarding low‑incidence special education needs.

* * * Governance * * *

Sec. 29.  EDUCATION GOVERNANCE; COMMISSIONER OF
  EDUCATION; COUNCIL ON EDUCATION GOVERNANCE

(a)  In May 2006, the commissioner of education released a white paper outlining a plan for changing education governance in Vermont and initiating a year of facilitated public discussions throughout the state.  The final discussion session is scheduled for May 2007. 

(b)  On or before December 1, 2007, the commissioner shall submit a report to the house and senate committees on education that describes insights obtained from the recently concluded public engagement process.  The report shall consider other governance models and shall also outline any proposals the commissioner wishes to make for restructuring governance in Vermont.  Any proposed changes should foster increased cooperation and collaboration among public schools and provide support for the new demands and expectations placed on schools by an increasingly technological and global society. 

(c)  On or before December 1, 2007, the council on education governance shall develop recommendations that address at least the following issues:

(1)  The continuation of community participation in local school decisions.

(2)  The impact governance changes would have on school choice, technical centers, and preschool programs, if any.

(3)  Methods by which towns would address differences in education property tax rates.

(4)  The ability to continue the existence of small, local schools through the creative and shared use of resources with other schools.

(5)  The aggregation and voter approval of budgets.

(6)  Whether and the extent to which the delivery of special education services could be managed and provided at a regional level.

(d)  By June 1, 2007, the joint fiscal office shall provide an initial report to the house and senate committees on education analyzing the cost drivers of education spending, including special education services, cost of personnel, and health insurance.  It shall submit a follow‑up report to the same committees before December 1, 2007. 

(e)  The commissioner shall request the following organizations to submit, jointly or independently, recommendations regarding the future governance of school districts:  the Vermont superintendents’ association, the Vermont school boards association, the Vermont principals’ association, and the Vermont national education association.  The commissioner shall include the recommendations in the report to the house and senate committees on education required in subsection (b) of this section.

* * * Departmental and School District Efficiency;

Unfunded Mandates; Study and Report * * *

Sec. 30.  COMMITTEE ON UNFUNDED FISCAL, REPORTING, AND
  PROGRAM MANDATES AND ON OPERATIONAL
  EFFECTIVENESS AND EFFICIENCY

(a)  There is created a committee to review state and federal mandates imposed on the department of education or school districts, or both, and to consider and propose ways to increase the effectiveness and operational efficiency of the department.

(b)  The committee shall consist of the following members:

(1)  The commissioner of education or designee who shall act as chair and shall convene the first meeting on or before July 1, 2007.

(2)  One member from each of the following entities, to be selected by the entity:  the Vermont superintendents’ association, the Vermont school boards association, the Vermont principals’ association, the Vermont national education association, the Vermont council of special education administrators, and the Vermont association for school business officials.

(3)  One representative from the business community to be selected by the Vermont business roundtable.

(c)  The committee shall:

(1)  Review and analyze state and federal laws, enacted in fiscal year 1998 forward, that impose fiscal, reporting, and program mandates on the department of education or school districts, or both.  The committee shall determine whether the mandates resulted in the need for increased staffing or technical assistance.  The committee shall also determine whether the laws included sufficient increases in appropriations to support implementation.

(2)  Examine the effectiveness and efficiency of the department of education with respect to its internal operations and its relationship with the field.  The committee shall also review and analyze ways to increase the operational efficiency of the department by, for example, eliminating duplicative reports and cumbersome reporting systems and by streamlining communications within the department and within the entire education system.  The committee shall create an ongoing strategic planning process that allows for constant review of operational performance within the department and in the field.

(d)  The committee may consult with other public and private entities as needed.  For example, it may decide to contact the agency of human services when considering duties regarding pregnant and parenting teens or prekindergarten education.

(e)  On or before December 31, 2007, the committee shall submit a written report to the members of the house and senate committees on education including its analysis, recommendations, and proposed legislation, if any.  The committee shall identify and suggest recommendations to eliminate redundancies, inefficiencies, outdated work methods, and capacity issues and shall identify any actions already taken in connection with this section.

(f)  On or before December 31, 2008, and continuing annually, the commissioner shall report to the house and senate committees on education regarding state and federal laws enacted since the date of the last report that impose fiscal, reporting, and program mandates on the department of education or school districts, or both.  The report shall include a determination of whether the mandate resulted in the need for increased staffing or technical assistance and whether the law included sufficient increases in appropriations to support implementation.   The report shall also report on new ways in which the department has increased operational efficiencies since the date of the last report.

* * * Education Services Funded by Medicaid; Study and Report * * *

Sec. 31.  EDUCATIONAL SERVICES FUNDED BY MEDICAID; STUDY

(a)  The department of education, the office of Vermont health access, the department of banking, insurance, securities, and health care administration, and the joint fiscal office shall study the revenue increase available to schools if federal funds were maximized by ensuring that all students eligible for Medicaid or Dr. Dynasaur were enrolled in the programs and achieving a corresponding decrease in the education property tax as a result.  The agencies shall report results of the study to the house committees on education and human services and the senate committees on education and health and welfare by December 1, 2007.

(b)  The study shall include estimates of:

(1)  The number of uninsured students and students insured by private health insurance or an employer‑sponsored health benefit plan who are eligible, but not enrolled, in Medicaid or Dr. Dynasaur.

(2)  A measure of the relative health status of children currently covered by Medicaid, children currently insured through private insurance or an employer‑sponsored health benefit plan, and uninsured children in order to predict utilization and cost for each population.

(3)  The extent to which private insurance or employer‑sponsored health benefit plans cover educational services covered by Medicaid or Dr. Dynasaur.

(4)  The number of children with individualized education plans (IEP) who lose health care coverage through Dr. Dynasaur because of nonpayment of a premium and the financial impact on schools because of the disenrollment in Dr. Dynasaur.

(5)  The potential revenue impact of targeting enrollment of children eligible for SCHIP‑funded Dr. Dynasaur services.

(c) The study shall also review current practices by which special education services provided to schools by mental health service organizations are distributed.  This shall include a review of the allocation of funds and services to schools, the method by which they are allocated, and the flexibility local schools and these mental health service organizations have to manage changes in services as needs change.


* * * Cost Sharing * * *

Sec. 32.  HUMAN SERVICE COSTS; DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION
 AND AGENCY OF HUMAN SERVICES

(a)  The joint fiscal office, in consultation with the department of education, the agency of human services, the Vermont superintendents’ association, the Vermont school boards association, the Vermont principals’ association, the Vermont national education association, the Vermont council for special education administrators, and other members of the education community, shall:

(1)  Identify human service functions that are performed by public schools as social, economic, and mental health needs have grown beyond the fiscal capabilities of the agency.

(2)  Provide a method for calculating the total cost to the education fund of providing those services.

(b)  On or before December 1, 2007:

(1)  The joint fiscal office shall provide the house and senate committees on education with the information required by subsection (a) of this section.

(2)  The department of education shall provide to the house and senate committees on education proposals for methods by which schools can account for the costs related to the human services-related services they provide.


* * * Integrated Financial Management System; Proposal * * *

Sec. 33.  SCHOOL DISTRICTS; INTEGRATED FINANCIAL
  MANAGEMENT SYSTEM; PROPOSAL

(a)  The department of education shall develop a detailed proposal to integrate the financial management systems among all school districts in order to assist districts to share financial information with each other, with the public, and with the department and to ensure that all districts consistently use uniform, high quality practices.  In connection with developing the proposal, the department shall consider whether school business management services should be consolidated at the supervisory union level.

(b)  The proposal shall include a description of the data that the department would seek from the districts through the integrated system; a proposed schedule for acquisition and implementation of the system; a detailed budget projection; and a plan for financing acquisition, maintenance, and upgrades of the system.  In addition, the proposal shall include a process by which schools can identify by code all services provided by the district that the department and the agency of human services agree are human services‑related.  The proposal shall also include information regarding current district costs for existing budget and accounting systems, including the cost of contract services.

(c)  On or before January 15, 2008, the department shall present its proposal together with any related appropriation request to the house and senate committees on education.

* * * Fiscal Impact Statements for Education Bills * * *

Sec. 34.  2 V.S.A. § 206 is added to read:

§ 206.  ENACTMENT OR AMENDMENT OF EDUCATION STATUTE;
            FISCAL IMPACT STATEMENTS REQUIRED

(a)  Prior to the enactment or amendment of any law affecting public education and at the request of the chair or the vice chair of the house or senate committee on education, the joint fiscal office shall prepare an impact statement that analyzes the law’s fiscal impact on the department of education and school districts, in consultation with any local or state entity on which the proposed legislation may have a fiscal impact.  These entities shall provide information deemed necessary when requested by the joint fiscal office. 

(b)  The impact statement shall include estimates of any additional personnel, equipment, facilities, and additional funding for implementation of the new or amended education law.  The impact statement shall be incorporated within any relevant legislation prior to its passage.  However, the existence of an impact statement required by this section in proposed legislation shall not, by that reason alone, require the referral of the bill to the house or senate committee on appropriations.

(c)  The appropriations and capital budgets shall give full consideration to the impact statement required by subsection (a) of this section.

(d)  The state board of education and the commissioner of education shall prepare impact statements analyzing the fiscal impact of grant proposals and of rules and regulations, where applicable.  The review of grants shall include consideration of the sustainability over the life of the grant term and beyond. 

Sec. 34a.  16 V.S.A. § 4015(e) is amended to read:

(e)  In the event that a school or schools which have received a grant under this section merge in any year following receipt of a grant, and the consolidated school is not eligible for a grant under this section or the small school grant for the consolidated school is less than the total amount of grant aid the schools would have received if they had not combined, the consolidated school shall continue to receive a grant for three years following consolidation.  The amount of the annual grant shall be:

(1)  In the first year following consolidation, an amount equal to the amount received by the school or schools in the last year of eligibility.

(2)  In the second year following consolidation, an amount equal to two‑thirds of the amount received in the previous year.

(3)  In the third year following consolidation, an amount equal to

one-third of the amount received in the first year following consolidation.


* * * CLA Modification * * *

Sec. 35.  ROLLING REAPPRAISAL STUDY

(a)  The director of the division of property valuation and review of the department of taxes shall study the feasibility of adopting a statewide system of rolling reappraisals on a three- or five-year basis. 

(b)  In the study, the director shall consult with the following:

(1)  Vermont Assessors and Listers Association.

(2)  Vermont League of Cities and Towns.

(3)  International Association of Assessing Officers.

(4)  One lister from a town with a greater number of residents than the average in Vermont, and one lister from a town with a lesser number of residents than the average.

(c)  The director shall analyze and make recommendations regarding:

(1)  mandatory lister and appraiser and board of civil authority training;

(2)  uniform appraisal methods;

(3)  estimated costs of creating such a system;

(4)  options for how the three- or five-year cycle could be implemented (e.g., a new grand list every third year, new one-third of the grand list every year; specified categories of property reappraised every third year; properties in specified regions reappraised every third year; etc.);

(5)  advantages and disadvantages of state-level utility property appraisal, and recommended utility property appraisal methodology;

(6)  timeline for implementation of the system and transition provisions which would be needed;

(7)  whether an equalization study would still be required with such a system, and, if so, how significant the common level of appraisal would be in determining education property tax liabilities;

(8)  any other issues which the director may identify as significant to the analysis.

(d)  The director shall report the findings and recommendations to the house committee on ways and means and the senate committee on finance by November 1, 2007.

* * * Property Tax Adjustment Cap at $6,000.00 * * *

Sec. 36.  32 V.S.A. § 6067 is amended to read:

§ 6067.  CREDIT LIMITATIONS

Only one individual per household per taxable year shall be entitled to a benefit under this chapter.  An individual who received a homestead exemption or adjustment with respect to property taxes assessed by another state for the taxable year shall not be entitled to receive an adjustment under this chapter. No taxpayer shall receive total adjustments under this chapter in excess of $10,000.00 $6,000.00 related to any one property tax year.    

Sec. 37.  EFFECTIVE DATE

Sec. 36 of this act ($6,000.00 limitation) shall apply to claims filed in 2008 and after.

* * * Farm Land, Agricultural and Forest Lands * * *

Sec. 38.  INDEPENDENT STUDY OF USE VALUE APPRAISAL
   PROGRAM

(a)  Appropriation and duties and powers.  The sum of $50,000.00 is appropriated from the general fund in fiscal year 2008 to the legislative council to hire one or more consultants to conduct a thorough and independent review and analysis of the use value appraisal program.  The consultants shall have the assistance of the joint fiscal office and the legislative council.

(b)  Goals; issues.  The goals of the use value appraisal program are found in 32 V.S.A. § 3751, as follows:

§ 3751.  STATEMENT OF PURPOSE

The purpose of this subchapter is to encourage and assist the maintenance of Vermont's productive agricultural and forest land; to encourage and assist in their conservation and preservation for future productive use and for the protection of natural ecological systems; to prevent the accelerated conversion of these lands to more intensive use by the pressure of property taxation at values incompatible with the productive capacity of the land; to achieve more equitable taxation for undeveloped lands; to encourage and assist in the preservation and enhancement of Vermont's scenic natural resources; and to enable the citizens of Vermont to plan its orderly growth in the face of increasing development pressures in the interests of the public health, safety and welfare. (Added 1977, No. 236 (Adj. Sess.), § 1.)

The consultant shall articulate the current statutory goals of the program, and analyze whether the program is achieving those goals.  The consultant shall investigate and make findings regarding the following: 

(1)  Has the current use program achieved its statutory goals?  If not, what were the barriers to achieving any particular goal?  Are there barriers to enrollment?

(2)  Does the administration of the program meet one of the stated goals, viz., of protecting natural ecological systems on enrolled forest land (wetlands,

riparian areas, rare forest conditions, etc.)?  If not, what are the barriers to protection of these ecosystems?

(3)  How are use values determined (in answering this question, the consultant shall confer with the current use advisory board)?  How might use values be affected if parcel location were taken into account?  Would the addition of new categories of eligible land, based for example upon parcel size, public access for outdoor recreation, conservation easements, protection of natural ecological systems, or other criteria, aid in achieving the statutory goals of the program?  Are the goals of the program furthered by allowing enrollment of a parcel that may not legally be subdivided, or otherwise is subject to development limitations?

(4)  What activities does the program require of listers and what changes, if any, would local officials like to see in the program?  Can computer technology reduce the administrative burden on local listers, allow landowners and consulting foresters to file documents and reports electronically, and improve monitoring and compliance? 

(5)  Is there sufficient personnel to administer the program adequately within the department of taxes and the department of forests, parks and recreation?  Is the monitoring of parcels manageable, and are the county foresters able to supervise and provide sufficient technical assistance? 

(6)  How would annual reporting by forest land owners affect the program?

(7)  Are the goals of open land and farmer assistance mutually exclusive or compatible goals for the program?

(8)  If the state imposed a timber severance tax, with the revenues reverting to the source towns, what is the best estimate of anticipated revenue, and how might such a tax affect the use value program?

(9)  Does the land use change tax provide an adequate disincentive for temporary enrollment of land, especially where the landowner intends to develop in the future? 

(10)  To the extent it can be determined, what percentage of enrolled landowners are Vermont residents? 

(11)  What have the costs of the programs been to the general fund and to the education fund since 1997?  Would the addition of a "means" test for enrollment hamper or enhance, or otherwise affect, achievement of the program goals?  How accurate are the fair market valuations of enrolled parcels, and if they are inaccurate, what is the more accurate fair market value?

(12)  In as much detail as is available:  What land preservation programs are available in Vermont?  How many parcels and how many acres in the state are enrolled in or subject to these programs?  Where is this land located, by town?  What are the various categories of land in these programs (such as lakefront, forest land, slope, cultivatable, etc.)?  What is the cost of each of these conservation programs in lost revenue?

(13)  How many parcels are exempt from municipal or education property tax, or both?  What is the cost of these exemptions to the host municipalities and to the education fund?

(c)  The consultant shall report to legislative council and the use value appraisal task force on the findings on or before October 1, 2007.

(d)  Use value appraisal task force.

(1)  Membership.  A use value appraisal task force is created to consist of two members of the house of representatives; two members of the senate; the director of the division of property valuation and review or designee; the secretary of the agency of natural resources or designee; the secretary of agriculture, food and markets or designee; a member representing forestry interests; a member representing agricultural interests; a member representing land-use or conservation interests; a member representing assessors and listers; a member representing fish and wildlife interests; a member representing outdoor recreational interests; one owner of enrolled forest land or agricultural land or both; one owner of nonenrolled forest land or agricultural land or both; two members at large.  The speaker of the house and the senate president pro tempore shall appoint members of the use value appraisal task force that are not members ex officio, and the governor shall appoint the two members at large.  Members shall be appointed by June 1, 2007.

(2)  Powers and duties.  The use value appraisal task force shall determine whether the program needs to be modified to accomplish its stated goals, and whether the goals ought to be modified in light of the available resources and all the findings of the task force.  In making these determinations, the task force shall confer with the consultant during the study of the use value appraisal program; review the consultant’s written report; conduct public hearings at convenient times and in convenient places throughout the state, with sufficient notice to the public; and consult with identifiable affected and interested parties. 

(3)  The task force shall provide the house committees on agriculture, natural resources and energy, and ways and means, and the senate committees on agriculture, natural resources and energy, and finance with a copy of the consultant’s study and a report of task force recommendations and legislative proposals by January 15, 2008.

(4)  The task force shall meet no more than three times when the general assembly is not in session.  For attendance at a meeting when the general assembly is not in session, legislative members of the task force shall be entitled to per diem compensation and reimbursement of expenses as provided in 2 V.S.A. § 406(a).

* * * Effective Dates * * *

Sec. 39.  EFFECTIVE DATES 

Except as explicitly provided in Secs. 7 and 27, this act shall take effect on passage.



Published by:

The Vermont General Assembly
115 State Street
Montpelier, Vermont


www.leg.state.vt.us