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BILL AS INTRODUCED 2007-2008

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S.155

Introduced by   Senator Mullin of Rutland District

Referred to Committee on

Date:

Subject:  Taxation; education property tax; education

Statement of purpose:  This bill proposes to make various changes to education finance and education law to reduce the burden of education property taxes and control education spending, including provisions to:  reduce the impact of grand list growth on property tax rates; limit the annual increase in education property tax burden to the rate of Vermont economic growth; cap property tax adjustments at $7,500.00; control education spending growth; allow a portion of education spending to be raised locally; pay property tax adjustment amounts to claimants; consolidate school districts; require a school energy audit; restrict cost of employee health insurance; restrict nonclassroom expenses; create a statewide teachers’ contract; provide tax incentives for voluntary consolidation of districts, special education costs, and responsibilities assumed by the state; and provide state aid reduction for high student-to-teacher ratio.

AN ACT RELATING TO EDUCATION FINANCE REFORM

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

* * * Reduce the impact of grand list growth on property tax rates * * *

Sec. 1.  32 V.S.A. § 5405(a) is amended to read:

(a)  Annually, on or before April 1, the commissioner shall determine the equalized education property tax grand list and coefficient of dispersion for each municipality in the state, but in no case shall the common level of appraisal used to determine the equalized education property tax grand list for any town be more than five percentage points below that town’s prior-year common level of appraisal.

* * * Limit annual increase in education property tax burden to rate of Vermont economic growth * * *

Sec. 2.  32 V.S.A. § 5402b(c) is added to read:

(c)  For purposes of calculating projected education spending and projected education fund balances in this section, the commissioner shall use a projected growth rate that is the lesser of:

(1)  the actual rate of projected growth in education spending; or

(2)  the average of the most recent annual consumer price index inflation rate and the most recent annual rate of growth in Vermont gross domestic product.


* * * Cap property tax adjustments at $7,500.00 * * *

Sec. 3.  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 $7,500.00 related to any one property tax year.

* * * Control education spending growth * * *

Sec. 4.  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, up to a maximum of 110 percent of the statewide average education spending per equalized pupil in the prior fiscal year, as determined by the commissioner of education, plus four times the excess spending, 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.  


* * * Allow portion of education spending to be raised locally * * *

Sec. 5.  32 V.S.A. § 5402(f) is added to read:

(f)  A local education tax is imposed on all nonresidential and homestead property at the rate necessary to raise from the municipality’s equalized education grand list the amount of education spending in the municipality’s school district per equalized pupil which is more than 110 percent, but less than 125 percent, of the statewide average education spending per equalized pupil in the prior fiscal year, as determined by the commissioner of education. The legislative body in each municipality shall then bill each property taxpayer at the local education property tax rate determined under this subsection, divided by the municipality’s most recent common level of appraisal, multiplied by the education property tax grand list value of the property.

* * * Pay property tax adjustment amounts to claimants * * *

Sec. 6.  32 V.S.A. § 6066(a) is amended to read:

§ 6066.  COMPUTATION OF ADJUSTMENT

(a)  An eligible claimant who owned the homestead on April 1 of the year in which the claim is filed shall be entitled to an adjustment amount determined as follows:

* * *

(3)  a claimant whose household income does not exceed $47,000.00 shall also be entitled to a credit against the claimant’s tax liability under chapter 151 of this title equal to the amount by which the property taxes for the municipal fiscal year which began in the taxable year upon the claimant’s housesite, reduced by the adjustment amount determined under subdivisions (1) and (2) of this subsection, exceeds a percentage of the claimant’s household income for the taxable year as follows:

* * *

Sec. 7.  REPEAL

32 V.S.A. § 6066(h) (one percent incentive to allocate income tax refund to property tax payment) is repealed, effective for claims filed in 2008 and after.

Sec. 8.  32 V.S.A. § 6066a is amended to read:

§ 6066a.  PAYMENT OF PROPERTY TAX ADJUSTMENTS

(a)  Annually, the commissioner shall pay to each claimant the property tax adjustment amount determined under subdivisions 6066(a)(1) and (2) of this title.  The payment shall be made to the municipality in which the housesite is located, for credit to the claimant for homestead property tax liabilities, on July 1 for timely-filed claims and on September 15 for late claims filed by September 1 by the latest of:  August 1, for claims filed by April 15; 45 days after the claim is filed, for claims filed after April 15; or 30 days prior to the first education property tax installment date for the claimant’s municipality in the fiscal year which begins in the calendar year in which the claim is filed under section 6068 of this title; or 25 days after the grand list has been transmitted in accordance with section 5404(b) of this title.  The tax adjustment of a claimant who was assessed property tax by a town which revised the dates of its fiscal year, however, is the excess of the property tax which was assessed in the last 12 months of the revised fiscal year, over the adjusted property tax of the claimant for the revised fiscal year as determined under subdivisions 6066(a)(1), (2), and (3) of this title.

(b)  The commissioner shall also pay to the municipality, for credit to the taxpayer for homestead property tax liabilities, any income tax overpayment remaining after allocation under section 3112 of this title and setoff under section 5934 of this title, which the taxpayer has directed to be used for payment of property taxes. 

(c)  Claim and refund amounts unresolved by September 15 shall be paid to the municipality at the time of final resolution, including adjudication if any.

(d)  For late claims, filed after April 15, the property tax adjustment amount shall be reduced by $15.00, which shall be paid by the commissioner to the municipality for the cost of issuing a new property tax bill to the claimant.

(e)  At the time of payment to the municipality, the commissioner shall notify the taxpayer of the property tax adjustment amount determined under subdivision 6066(a)(1) of this title; the amount determined under subdivision 6066(a)(3) of this title; any additional adjustment amounts due the homestead owner under section 6066 of this title; the amount of income tax refund, if any, paid to the town for homestead property tax liabilities; and any late-claim reduction amount.

(f)  Property tax bills.

(1)  For amounts paid to municipalities on July 1, municipalities shall include on the homestead property tax bill notice to the taxpayer of the total amount allocated to payment of homestead property tax liabilities and notice of the balance due.  By a majority of those voting at an annual or special meeting called for that purpose, the voters of a municipality may elect to apply the amount allocated under this chapter to current-year property taxes to the taxpayers’ property tax installments in order or pro rata.

(2)  For amounts paid to municipalities on or after September 15, municipalities shall issue a new homestead property tax bill with notice to the taxpayer of the total amount allocated to payment of homestead property tax liabilities and notice of the balance due.

(3)  The payment received by the municipality from the state for credit to the taxpayer shall be credited first to current-year property tax on the homestead parcel, next to current‑year homestead parcel penalties and interest, next to any prior year homestead parcel penalties and interest, and last to any prior year property tax on the homestead parcel.  No payment shall be allocated to a property tax liability for any year after the year for which the claim or refund allocation was filed.  If the payment received by the municipality exceeds the amount allocated under this subsection, the municipality shall refund the excess to the taxpayer, without interest, within 60 days of receipt by the municipality.  No municipal tax-reduction incentive for early payment of taxes shall apply to any payment made to a municipality by the state under this chapter.

Sec. 9.  32 V.S.A. § 3108(b) is amended to read:

(b)  Whenever the commissioner is authorized or directed to pay interest on an overpayment of any taxes, nevertheless no interest shall be paid on such overpayment:

* * *

(4)  to the extent the overpayment is paid at the direction of the taxpayer to a municipality for credit against the taxpayer’s homestead property tax liabilities.

* * *

Sec. 10.  32 V.S.A. § 6068 is amended to read:

§ 6068.  APPLICATION AND TIME FOR FILING

(a)  A tax adjustment claim or a request for allocation of an income tax refund to homestead property tax payment shall be filed with the commissioner on or before the due date for filing the Vermont income tax return, without extension, and shall describe the school district in which the homestead property is located and shall particularly describe the homestead property for which the adjustment or allocation is sought, including a parcel identification number if the town has assigned one.

(b)  Late-filing penalties.  If the claimant fails to file a timely claim, the amount of the property tax adjustment under this chapter shall be reduced by $15.00, but not below $0.00, which shall be paid to the municipality for the cost of issuing an adjusted homestead property tax bill.  No benefit shall be allowed in the calendar year unless the claim is filed with the commissioner on or before September 1.

(c)  No request for allocation of an income tax refund may be made after September 1.

Sec. 11.  32 V.S.A. § 6061 is amended to read:

§ 6061.  DEFINITIONS

* * *

(15)  “Unadjusted property tax” means the amount of education and municipal property taxes on the homestead parcel before any reduction for a property tax payment under section 6066a of this chapter.

(16)  “Adjusted property tax” means the amount of education and municipal property taxes on the homestead parcel after reduction for any property tax payment under section 6066a of this chapter.


* * * Consolidation of school districts * * *

Sec. 12.  SCHOOL CONSOLIDATION INITIATIVE

(a)  There is created a commission to develop a plan for consolidating school districts and their boards so that there is no more than one district or board per supervisory union or supervisory district in the state.  The commission shall be made up of four members appointed by the governor, two members appointed by the president pro tempore of the senate, two members appointed by the speaker of the house of representatives, and a chair jointly appointed by the governor, president pro tempore, and speaker.  Members shall serve without compensation, and the legislative council, joint fiscal office, and department of education shall provide staff services.

(b)  The commission’s proposal shall address such transitional issues as:

(1)  The process by which districts and boards will be dissolved and created.

(2)  The status of existing contracts with private entities.

(3)  The ownership of real property.

(4)  The status of existing contracts with district employees.

(5)  The effect consolidation will have on education finance, school choice, technical centers, pre-school programs, and other issues.

(c)  On or before December 1, 2007, the commission shall present its proposed consolidation plan to the general assembly.


* * * Energy audit * * *

Sec. 13.  16 V.S.A. § 563(32) is added to read:

§ 563. POWERS OF SCHOOL BOARDS

The school board of a school district, in addition to other duties and authority specifically assigned by law:

* * *

(32)  Shall contract for an energy audit of all buildings owned by the district at least once in every period of three years, and shall file the audit, together with a plan to reduce energy consumption, with the commissioner.

* * * Health insurance; non-classroom expenses * * *

Sec. 14.  16 V.S.A. § 428(c) and (d) are added to read:

§ 428.  BUDGET TO BE VOTED

* * *

(c)  No budget shall include a line-item for the health insurance of any employee that is in an amount that exceeds the average per-person cost of health insurance paid in Vermont, as that average is determined on or before January 1 of each year by the commissioner of banking, insurance, securities, and health care administration.

(d)  No more than 35 percent of a district’s budget shall be for expenses not directly related to the classroom unless the district receives express preapproval from the voters in the district and the general assembly to present a budget exceeding that percentage.  The state board of education shall define by rule those items considered to be directly related to the classroom. 

* * * Statewide teacher’s contract * * *

Sec. 15.  16 V.S.A. § 1981(2) is amended to read:

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

Sec. 16.  16 V.S.A. § 1981(8), (9), (10), and (11) are added to read:

(8)  “Public schoolteacher” means a teacher who is employed by a public school board in a position requiring licensure.

(9)  “State,” unless the context indicates otherwise, means the state of Vermont represented by the governor or the governor’s authorized representative.

(10)  “Exclusive representative” means any individual or employee organization chosen to represent teachers or administrators in negotiations with the state or a school board.

(11)  “Negotiating unit” means a group of employees eligible for exclusive representation by an employee organization in professional negotiations.  The negotiating unit includes those who are members of the employee organization and those who are not members.

Sec. 17.  16 V.S.A. § 1982 is amended to read:

§ 1982.  RIGHTS

(a)  Teachers shall have the right to self‑organize, and to or not to join, assist, or participate in any teachers’ organization of their choosing.  However, teachers may be required to pay an agency fee pursuant to an agreement negotiated under this chapter.

* * *

(c)  Neither the state or the school board, nor any employee of the state or the school board, serving in any capacity, nor any other person or organization shall interfere with, restrain, coerce, or discriminate in any way against or for any teacher or administrator engaged in activities protected by this legislation.

Sec. 18.  16 V.S.A. § 1991 is amended to read:

§ 1991.  SELECTION OF REPRESENTATION

(a)  Teachers and administrators may select organizations to represent them in collective negotiations with the state or the school board.  The

(1)  In the case of public schoolteachers, the state shall recognize an organization as the exclusive representative of the teachers when that organization has proved its claim to sole and exclusive representative status as provided in this chapter.

(2)  In the case of independent schoolteachers or administrators, 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.

(b)  When close or disputed questions of eligibility to vote and inclusion in the unit to be represented by the teachers’ organization arise, the general principle to be adhered to shall be that eligibility to vote and inclusion in that the negotiating unit will be limited to all teachers in the school district under contract and actually engaged in full‑time or part‑time positions which are not that of administrator.

* * *

Sec. 19.  16 V.S.A. § 1992 is amended to read:

§ 1992.  ADMINISTRATORS AND INDEPENDENT SCHOOLTEACHERS; REFERENDUM PROCEDURE FOR REPRESENTATION

(a)  An organization purporting to represent a majority of all of the teachers independent schoolteachers or of all the administrators employed by the a school board may be recognized by the school board without the necessity of a referendum upon the submission of a petition bearing the valid signatures of a majority of the teachers independent schoolteachers or administrators employed by that school board.  Within fifteen 15 days after receiving the petition the school board shall notify the teachers or administrators of the school district in writing of its intention to either to require or waive a secret ballot referendum.  If the school board gives notice of its intention to waive a referendum and recognize an organization, ten percent of the teachers or administrators employed by the school board may submit a petition within fifteen 15 days thereafter, objecting to the granting or recognition without a referendum, in which event a secret ballot referendum shall be held among the administrators or independent schoolteachers in the district for the purpose of choosing an exclusive representative according to the guidelines for referendum contained in this legislation.

(b)  Recognition granted to a negotiating unit as exclusive representative of a group of independent schoolteachers or a group of administrators shall be valid and not subject to challenge by referendum petition or otherwise for the remainder of the fiscal year in which recognition is granted and for an additional period of twelve 12 months after final adoption of the budget for the succeeding fiscal year and shall continue thereafter until a new referendum is called for.

(c)  A secret ballot referendum shall be held any time that twenty 20 percent of the teachers independent schoolteachers or administrators employed by the a school board present a petition requesting a referendum on the matter of representation, except during a period of prior recognition, as hereinbefore provided.  Any organization interested in representing teachers employed by an independent school board or administrators in the a school district shall have the right to appear on the ballot by submitting a petition supported by ten percent or more of the teachers independent schoolteachers or administrators in the school district.

* * *

Sec. 20.  16 V.S.A. § 1993 is added to read:

§ 1993.  PUBLIC SCHOOLTEACHERS; REFERENDUM PROCEDURE

               FOR REPRESENTATION

(a)  In determining who is to represent public schoolteachers in negotiations with the state under this chapter, the procedures of 21 V.S.A. §§ 1723 and 1724 shall be followed, except that:

(1)  “Municipal employer” refers to the state.

(2)  “Municipal employee” means a teacher.

(3)  There shall be one bargaining unit.

(4)  Subsection 1724(c) of Title 21 is not applicable.

(b)  The Vermont labor relations board shall have responsibility for making decisions on any matters in dispute regarding eligibility to be in the negotiating unit, eligibility to vote in the election, the mechanics of the election, and other necessary decisions relating to the conduct of the election.  Decisions of the board shall be final.

Sec. 21.  16 V.S.A. § 1994 is added to read:

§ 1994.  PUBLIC SCHOOLTEACHERS; UNFAIR LABOR PRACTICES

For the purpose of preventing unfair labor practices between teachers and the state, public schoolteachers and the state shall be subject to the provisions of 21 V.S.A. §§ 1726–1729 pursuant to 21 V.S.A. § 1735.  For the purposes of relations between teachers and the state, “employer” means the state, and:

(1)  In subdivision 1726(a)(1) of Title 21, “this chapter” means chapter 57 of this title.

(2)  Subdivisions 1726(a)(6) and (8) and (b)(5) and (6) of Title 21 do not apply.

Sec. 22.  16 V.S.A. chapter 57, subchapter 3 is redesignated to read:

Subchapter 3.  Negotiations between Administrators or Independent

Schoolteachers and their School Boards

Sec. 23.  16 V.S.A. § 2001 is amended to read:

§ 2001.  GOOD FAITH

The school board and the recognized teacher or administrator organization exclusive representative for independent schoolteachers or administrators 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. 24.  16 V.S.A. chapter 57, subchapter 5 is added to read:

Subchapter 5.  Negotiations Between Public Schoolteachers and the State

§ 2031.  GOOD FAITH

The state and the recognized public schoolteacher exclusive representative 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.

§ 2032.  DATE TO BEGIN

In each contract negotiated between the state and the public schoolteacher exclusive representative, the parties shall designate a date for the start of negotiations on the next contract.

§ 2033.  AGENDA; INPUT FROM OTHER PARTIES

(a)  The exclusive representative and the state shall negotiate on matters of salary, including the number of days and hours per day that the salary covers; insurance benefits; leave excluding extended leave which under rule of the state board requires employment of a licensed substitute; duration of contract; and grievance definition and procedures.  Economic conditions of employment for teachers not bargained under this section shall be determined by the local school board and teachers in accordance with subchapter 5 of chapter 9 of this title.  Nothing herein shall preclude a school board and teachers from agreeing, pursuant to subchapter 5 of chapter 9 of this title, to a grievance definition and procedure alternative to that negotiated under this section.

(b)  While conducting negotiations with public schoolteachers, the state shall consider recommendations of people or organizations; for example, representatives of the Vermont public school boards or the commissioner of education, who may be able to advise and assist.

§ 2034.  WRITTEN AGREEMENT

The state and the exclusive representative shall enter into a written agreement, incorporating matters agreed to in negotiation.

§ 2035.  MEDIATOR

If, after negotiation has taken place on all matters properly before them, the state and the exclusive representative 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 identity 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.


§ 2036.  FACT‑FINDING COMMITTEE

(a)  If mediation fails to resolve outstanding differences or is not requested and a continuing disagreement persists, either party may, after negotiation on all matters properly before it, request that any or all unresolved issues be submitted to a fact‑finding committee by notifying the other party of its intention and setting forth in writing the issues to be submitted to fact‑finding.

(b)  The fact‑finding committee, which shall be activated as soon as practicable upon request, shall be composed of one member selected by the state, one member selected by the exclusive representative, and one member, who shall serve as chair, 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.

(c)  The fact‑finding committee shall convene as soon as practicable after its appointment, hold informal hearings as necessary, and provide adequate opportunity to all parties to testify fully on, and present evidence regarding, their respective positions.  All parties to the dispute shall furnish the fact‑finding committee upon its request all records, papers, and information in their possession pertaining to any matter properly in issue before the fact‑finding committee.  The fact‑finding committee shall make a written report and shall deliver it to both parties, recommending a reasonable basis for the settlement of the disagreement within 30 days after the appointment of all members of the committee.

(d)  The report of the fact‑finding committee shall be advisory only and shall not be binding on either party.  The report shall be made public by the fact‑finding committee if the issues in dispute have not been resolved within ten days of the delivery of the report.

(e)  All expenses of fact‑finding and mediation shall be borne jointly by the parties to the dispute.

§ 2037.  FINALITY OF DECISIONS

All decisions of the state regarding matters in dispute in negotiations shall, after full compliance with this subchapter, be final.  However, the state shall not invoke finality sooner than 30 days after the report of a fact‑finder has been made public pursuant to subsection 2036(d) of this title or if both parties have agreed to binding arbitration under subchapter 4 of this title.

§ 2038.  RIGHT TO STRIKE

(a)  Except as provided in subsection (e) of this section, in this section, “strike” means a concerted stoppage of work by teachers.  “Strike” does not mean a concerted slowdown, interference, or interruption of operations or services by teachers, all of which actions are prohibited to public schoolteachers.

(b)  Teachers have the right to strike during negotiations with the state pursuant to this subchapter or following a decision of the general assembly to appropriate less than requested under section 2039 of this title.

(c)  A strike pursuant to subsection (b) of this section is prohibited under the following circumstances:

(1)  A court of competent jurisdiction, after due hearing, finds that the commencement or continuance of the strike poses a clear and present danger to a sound program of school education which it is in the best public interest to prevent.  Any restraining order or injunction issued by a court under this subdivision shall prohibit only a specific act or acts expressly determined in the findings of fact to pose a clear and present danger.

(2)  The strike occurs sooner than 30 days after the report of a fact‑finder has been made public pursuant to subsection 2036(d) of this title.

(3)  Both parties have voluntarily agreed to binding arbitration under subchapter 4 of this chapter, except that in this case, the teachers may strike following a decision of the general assembly to appropriate less than requested under section 2039 of this title.

(d)  For a violation of subsection (b) of this section, an injunction or other appropriate relief may be obtained upon petition to the Washington superior court.

(e)  A strike, which in this subsection has the same meaning as provided in 21 V.S.A. § 1722(16), in protest of a decision or action of a school board, is prohibited.  For a violation of this subsection, a school board may petition the superior court within the county in which the board is located for an injunction or other appropriate relief.

§ 2039.  APPROPRIATION

An agreement between the state and the exclusive representative shall be submitted to the governor, who shall request from the general assembly the amount necessary to compensate the teachers according to the negotiated compensation schedule.

Sec. 25.  16 V.S.A. § 2021 is amended to read:

§ 2021.  NEGOTIATED BINDING INTEREST ARBITRATION

(a)  Arbitration In negotiations under either subchapter 3 or 5 of this chapter, arbitration shall only occur if both parties agree in writing to submit to binding arbitration.  An agreement to accept binding interest arbitration may not be revoked.

(b)  The parties may mutually agree to accept binding interest arbitration at any time after impasse is reached.  If the parties have neither accepted all recommendations of a fact‑finder nor reached an independent agreement on all issues in dispute, either the state, the school board, or the recognized representative organization may request binding interest arbitration by written notice to the other party.  The parties shall mutually agree on one of the following limitations on the jurisdiction of the arbitrator:

(1)  Arbitration under which the award is confined to a choice between one of the following single packages:

(A)  The last best offer of the state or the school board.

(B)  The last best offer of the recognized representative organization.

(2)  Arbitration under which the award is confined to a choice between one of the following on an issue‑by‑issue basis:

(A)  The last best offer of the state or the school board.

(B)  The last best offer of the recognized representative organization.

(c)  A strike, which shall have the same meaning as provided in section subdivision 1722(16) of Title 21, shall be prohibited if it occurs after both parties have voluntarily submitted a dispute to final and binding arbitration or after a decision or award has been issued by the arbitrator.  A school board may petition for an injunction or other appropriate relief from the superior court within the county wherein such strike in violation of this section is occurring or is about to occur.  This subsection applies only to administrators and independent schoolteachers.

(d)  If any provision of this subchapter is inconsistent with any other provision of law governing arbitration, this subchapter shall govern.


Sec. 26.  16 V.S.A. § 2025 is amended to read:

§ 2025.  FACTORS TO BE CONSIDERED BY ARBITRATOR

(a)  At the hearing, each party shall have full opportunity to submit all relevant evidence, to introduce relevant documents and written material, and to argue on behalf of its positions.  At the hearing, both parties may present evidence regarding the financial capacity of the state or the school district.  The arbitrator shall preside over such hearing.

(b)  In reaching a decision, the arbitrator shall give weight to the factors listed in subsection (a) of this section, plus the following factors:

(1)  The lawful authority of the state or the school board.

(2)  Stipulations of the parties.

(3)  The interest and welfare of the public and the financial ability of the state or the school board to pay for increased costs of public services, including the cost of labor.

(4)  Comparisons of the wages, hours, and conditions of employment of the employees involved in the dispute with the wages, hours, and conditions of employment of other employees performing similar services in public schools in comparable communities or in private employment in comparable communities.

(5)  The average consumer prices for goods and services commonly known as the cost of living.

(6)  The overall compensation presently received by the employees, including direct wages, fringe benefits, and continuity conditions, and stability of employment, and all other benefits received.

(7)  Prior negotiations and existing conditions of other school and municipal employees.

Sec. 27.  16 V.S.A. § 2026 is amended to read:

§ 2026.  NOTICE OF AWARD

The arbitrator shall file one copy of the decision with the state and the exclusive representative in the case of public schoolteacher negotiations or, in the case of independent schoolteacher or administrator negotiations, with each city or town clerk in the school district involved, the school board, and the recognized organization.  The decision of the arbitrator shall be final and binding upon the parties to the dispute.

Sec. 28.  16 V.S.A. chapter 9, subchapter 5 is added to read:

Subchapter 5.  Public School Board and Teacher Decision‑Making

§ 568.  RESOLUTION OF ISSUES

(a)  Issues involving economic conditions of employment for teachers not bargained under chapter 57 of this title and any mutually agreed-upon matters not in conflict with law shall be resolved under this subchapter.  Matters of educational and school policy as set forth in section 563 of this title shall not be subject to this process.

(b)  Nothing in this subchapter shall preclude teachers from organizing for the purposes of resolving issues under this subchapter.

(c)  For purposes of organization, public schoolteachers shall be subject to the procedures of sections 1991 and 1992 of this title.

§ 569.  SCHOOL BOARD AND TEACHER DECISION‑MAKING

            PROCESS

(a)  The school board and teachers of a district shall mutually agree upon a procedure for discussion and resolution of issues under this subchapter.  The procedure shall be one that enables discussion and resolution of issues that are of importance to the teachers or the board in a way that is fair, satisfactory to all, and in keeping with the best interests of the students.  The procedure shall be set forth in writing and ratified by each party.

(b)  In the absence of a mutually agreed-upon procedure, the teachers and board shall follow the procedure set forth in this subchapter.

(c)  Two or more school districts may develop and implement a joint procedure under this section.

§ 570.  FACULTY-BOARD RELATIONS COUNCIL

(a)  Unless the teachers and the school board of a district agree to a procedure pursuant to section 569 of this title, they shall create a faculty-board relations council for the purpose of discussing and resolving issues under this subchapter.  The council shall consist of two members of the school board chosen by the board and two teachers elected by the teachers.  The superintendent shall appoint one administrator to provide staff assistance to the council.  The council shall meet monthly, or more often if mutually agreed upon.

(b)  At the request of any two council members, the council shall discuss any issue or issues described in subsection 568(a) of this title.

(c)  Pending resolution of a dispute between the board and teachers, conditions of the former agreement or contract shall apply.

(d)  If, after discussion, council members cannot resolve an issue or issues raised and discussed at a monthly meeting, they shall place the issue or issues on the formal agenda for the next monthly meeting.  If an issue or issues remain unresolved following that meeting, they shall be placed on the formal agenda for the monthly meeting following.

(e)  If an issue or issues are unresolved after being on the formal agenda for two monthly meetings, the council may proceed to one or more of the following:

(1)  Mediation.

(2)  Binding arbitration.  The council shall proceed to binding arbitration only if both the board and teachers ratify this step.

(3)  Further discussion at monthly meetings.

(4)  Postponement of discussion to a date certain.

(f)  If the council does not agree to use any of the processes of subsection (e) of this section for dispute resolution or if mediation fails to resolve an issue and, following mediation, the council does not proceed to binding arbitration, the council shall request that the issue or issues be heard by the faculty-board appeal panel.

(g)  If, at any point in the process, the teachers and school board are satisfied that they have reached an agreement, they shall put the agreement into writing.

(h)  The council shall be exempt from the open meeting law of subchapter 2 of chapter 5 of Title 1.

§ 570a.  REPRESENTATION; RATIFICATION OF AGREEMENTS

(a)  If, by petition, ten percent of the teachers in a district question who shall represent the teachers in developing a mutually agreed-upon procedure under section 569 of this title, who is elected to be a teacher member of the council under section 570 of this title, or whether ratification of an agreement under either section is valid, the superintendent shall conduct a referendum by secret ballot.  The petition must be presented to the superintendent within 30 days of the choice of a representative, election of a council member, or ratification of an agreement.

(b)  If the teachers are organized under section 568 of this title, the organization shall ratify agreements and represent the teachers in developing a mutually agreed-upon procedure under section 569 of this title and in council meetings under section 570 of this title.

§ 570b.  FACULTY-BOARD APPEAL PANEL

(a)  Unless teachers and the school board agree to a procedure pursuant to section 569 of this title, they shall create a faculty-board appeal panel for the purpose of hearing and deciding issues that are unresolved under section 568 of this title.  The panel shall be made up of five legal voters in the school district who are neither regularly employed by the school district or a school district within the same supervisory union nor members of a public school board.  A member may serve for an unlimited number of terms.  A term shall be one year.  If a vacancy occurs before a term expires, the replacement shall be chosen in the same manner as the original member.  The members of the panel shall be chosen as follows:

(1)  Two shall be elected by a majority of the teachers voting.  All teachers in the school district under contract and actually engaged in full‑time or part‑time positions which are not that of administrator shall be eligible to vote.  If at any point up to 30 days after choosing a member or until the first hearing in which the new member will participate, whichever comes first, ten percent of the teachers in a district sign a petition requesting a secret ballot, the superintendent shall conduct a referendum.

(2)  Two shall be chosen by the school board.

(3)  One shall be elected by a majority of the members selected under subdivisions (1) and (2) of this subsection.  This member shall serve as chair.

(b)  Upon request of the faculty-board relations council, the panel shall meet within 30 days.  All meetings of the panel shall be open to the public.  The panel shall give both parties the opportunity to present evidence and argument and to respond to argument on all issues involved.  Either party may conduct cross‑examination required for a full disclosure of the facts.  The panel shall keep a record of its proceedings and other official actions.  The record shall be filed in the office of the clerk of the district or supervisory union as a public record.  For the conduct of any hearing and the taking of any action, a quorum shall be not less than three members of the panel.  Any action of the panel shall be taken by the concurrence of a majority of the entire panel.

(c)  The panel shall consider the position of the school board and either affirm, reverse, or modify the position, or remand the issue to the council.

(d)  In making a decision under this section, the panel shall affirm a position of the school board if it finds that it is more likely than not that the position:

(1)  was taken after good faith discussions;

(2)  was taken after following the procedures of section 570 of this title; and

(3)  was reasonable.


§ 570c.  UNFAIR LABOR PRACTICES

For the purpose of preventing unfair labor practices, teachers and school boards shall be subject to the provisions of 21 V.S.A. §§ 1726–1729, pursuant to 21 V.S.A. § 1735.  For the purposes of relations between teachers and their school boards, subdivisions 1726(a)(8) and (b)(6) do not apply.  In addition, subdivisions 1726(a)(5) and (b)(4) shall not apply:

(1)  if a school board and teachers in a district have agreed to a decision‑making process pursuant to section 569 of this title that enables impartial review of whether discussion and attempted resolution of issues was carried out in good faith; or

(2)  if the board and teachers of a district have failed to agree on a decision‑making process and are therefore subject to the provisions of sections 570 and 570b of this title.

Sec. 29.  16 V.S.A. § 1751 is amended to read:

§ 1751.  SCHOOL BOARD AS EMPLOYER; CONTRACT

(a)  Notwithstanding the fact that the teachers’ compensation schedule is negotiated between the state of Vermont and the recognized teacher organization, and notwithstanding the fact that the school district receives aid from the state of Vermont for funding teacher compensation, a teacher shall be an employee of the school board.  Decisions regarding hiring, evaluation, suspension, nonrenewal of contract, conditions of employment other than those negotiated under chapter 57 of this title, and dismissal of the teacher shall be made by the school board.

(b)  A contract between a board of school directors and a teacher shall not be valid unless the same is in writing, or partly written and partly printed, in triplicate, and signed by the teacher and by a majority of the board or by a member of the board or other person who has been duly authorized by a majority vote of the board at a regular meeting to sign the contract in question on behalf of the board.  One copy thereof shall be filed with the board, one copy delivered to the teacher, and one copy delivered to the superintendent.  Such contract shall specify the date when the teacher shall begin service, the time, grade and date of expiration of the license held by the teacher, the salary of the teacher and such other matters as may be necessary for a complete understanding between the parties.

(c)  A public schoolteacher shall be compensated by a public school board according to the agreement negotiated between the state and the public

schoolteacher negotiating unit.  Except as provided in this subsection, a school board may not enter into separate negotiations with a teacher and may not provide the teacher compensation beyond or below that set forth in the contract for a teacher of equal experience and qualifications performing the same duties.  For extra student‑attendance days and teacher in‑service education days and extra hours worked during student‑attendance and in‑service days, a school board shall pay compensation according to the statewide contract on a prorated basis.  A board, however, may pay compensation at a different rate from that set forth in the statewide contract for the performance of extra‑ or cocurricular activities or days or hours worked during days that are not student‑attendance or teacher in‑service days.

Sec. 30.  TRANSITIONAL PROVISIONS AND EFFECTIVE DATE

(a)  Unless otherwise agreed to by the parties, collective bargaining agreements between school boards and their employees entered into before July 1, 2008 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 within multi-district supervisory unions who are engaged in collective bargaining as of July 1, 2008, are encouraged, but are not required, to do so in accordance with the provisions of this act.  

(d)  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.

(e)  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. 

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

* * * Voluntary consolidation; tax benefit * * *

Sec. 31.  VOLUNTARY CONSOLIDATION; TAX BENEFIT

There is created a committee consisting of two members to be appointed by the president pro tempore of the senate, two members to be appointed by the speaker of the house of representatives, and four members to be appointed by the governor, and a chair to be jointly chosen by all three leaders to develop a system to provide tax incentives to school districts that voluntarily consolidate.  The chair shall convene the first meeting of the committee on or before July 1, 2007.  The department of education shall provide administrative support to the committee.  The committee shall present a detailed plan to provide tax benefits to consolidating districts to the general assembly on or before December 1, 2007.  Committee members shall receive no financial compensation for service on the committee.


* * * Special education costs and responsibility * * *

Sec. 32.  16 V.S.A. chapter 101 is amended to read:

CHAPTER 101.  SPECIAL EDUCATION

Subchapter 1.  General Provisions

§ 2941.  POLICY AND PURPOSE

It is the policy of the state to ensure equal educational opportunities for all children in Vermont.  As applied to children with disabilities, this means that such children are entitled to receive a free appropriate public education.  It is further the policy of the state to pay 60 100 percent of the statewide costs expended by public education to children with disabilities and to assume responsibility for the implementation of all aspects of special education in the public schools.  The purpose of this chapter is to enable the state department of education to ensure the provision of the special educational facilities and instruction which are necessary to meet the needs of children with disabilities.  The purpose is also for the department to assume the role of the local educational agency for purposes of 20 U.S.C. § 1401(19) and related federal laws.

§ 2942.  DEFINITIONS

As used in this chapter:

(1)  “Child with a disability” means any child in Vermont determined by the department of education to be eligible under state regulations to receive special education.

* * *

(6)  “Individualized education plan” means a plan established by the department of education for an eligible child pursuant to 20 U.S.C. § 1401(19) and the implementing federal and state regulations.

* * *

§ 2944.  SPECIAL EDUCATION

* * *

(g)  The state board of education shall, by rule, adopt the process by which the department shall:

(1)  Assess each child in the state for whom an individualized education plan is requested or recommended; and

(2)  Develop and implement the individualized education plan for each child whom the department, as the local educational agency, determines to be eligible.

* * *

§ 2959b.  INDIVIDUALIZED EDUCATION PLANS

A school district or supervisory union responsible for When developing an individualized education plan for a child with a disability, the department of education may consider the cost of the provision of special education or related services to the child if:

(1)  the district or supervisory union department has developed the individualized education plan in accordance with federal law through an individualized plan team that included the parents;

(2)  the individualized education plan team has determined that the child’s placement contained in the plan is appropriate for the child as that term is defined in federal law; and

(3)  all the options under consideration by the district or supervisory union department for fulfilling the requirements of the child’s individualized education plan would constitute a free appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment for the child, as those terms are defined in federal law.

Subchapter 2.  Aid for Special Education and Support Services

* * *

§ 2962.  EXTRAORDINARY SERVICES REIMBURSEMENT

(a)  Except as otherwise provided in this subchapter, extraordinary services reimbursement shall be payable to each town school district, city school district, union school district, unified union school district, incorporated school district, the member school districts of an interstate school district, and unorganized town or gore.

(b)  The amount of extraordinary services reimbursement provided to each district shall be equal to 90 percent of its extraordinary special education expenditures.

(c)  As used in this subchapter, “extraordinary special education expenditures” means a school district’s allowable expenditures which for any one child exceed $50,000.00 for a fiscal year.  In this subsection, child means a pupil with disabilities who is three years of age or older in the current school year.  The state board shall define allowable expenditures which shall include any expenditures required under federal law, and any costs of mediation conducted by a mediator who is approved by the commissioner.

(d)  [Repealed.]  [Repealed.]

§ 2963.  SPECIAL EDUCATION EXPENDITURES REIMBURSEMENT

(a)  Each town school district, city school district, union school district, unified union school district, incorporated school district, the member school districts of an interstate school district, and unorganized town or gore shall receive a special education expenditures reimbursement grant each school year.

(b)  The amount of a school district’s special education expenditures reimbursement shall be equal to the total of its special education expenditures multiplied by the reimbursement rate for that year.

(c)  As used in this subchapter:

(1)  Special education expenditures are allowable expenditures for special education, as defined by rule of the state board, less the following:

(A)  revenue from federal aid for special education;

(B)  mainstream service costs, as defined in section 2961(c)(1) of this title; and

(C)  extraordinary special education expenditures, as defined in section 2962 of this title; 

(D)  any transportation expenses already reimbursed;

(E)  special education costs for a student eligible for aid under section 2963a of this title; and

(F)  other state funds used for special education costs as defined by the state board by rule.

(2)  The state board shall define allowable expenditures under this subsection.  Allowable expenditures shall include any expenditures required under federal law.

(3)  “Special education expenditures reimbursement rate” means a percentage of special education expenditures that is calculated to achieve the 60 percent share required by section 2967(b) of this title.

(d)  [Repealed.] 


§ 2963a.  EXCEPTIONAL CIRCUMSTANCES

(a)  The commissioner of education, in place of reimbursement under section 2963 of this title, shall reimburse a school district for 80 percent of the following expenditures:

(1)  costs not eligible for reimbursement under section 2962 of this title for each student causing the school district to be eligible for extraordinary services reimbursement pursuant to that section.  However, in order for a school district to be eligible for reimbursement under this section, the total costs of the district eligible for extraordinary services reimbursement must equal or exceed 15 percent of the total costs eligible for state assistance under sections 2961, 2962, and 2963 of this title; and

(2)  the costs incurred by the school district in placing and maintaining a student in a program operated by the Vermont Center for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.

(b)  An eligible school district may apply to the commissioner to receive reimbursement under this section.  The commissioner shall award reimbursement to a school district under this section if the commissioner makes a determination that the school district considered all the cost-effective and appropriate available alternatives for placement and programs for students before incurring these costs.  A decision of the commissioner shall be final.  [Repealed.]


§ 2964.  SERVICE PLAN

(a)  As a condition of receiving assistance under this subchapter, a supervisory union or supervisory district shall file a service plan with the commissioner annually on or before October 15.  The service plan shall contain the anticipated special education expenditures for the following school year.  The plan shall be in a form prescribed by the commissioner and shall include information on services planned and anticipated expenditures.

(b)  If a supervisory union or district fails to file a service plan by October 15, the commissioner may withhold any funds due the supervisory district or school districts under this title until a service plan is filed and accepted by the commissioner as properly completed.  [Repealed.]

§ 2965. WITHHOLDING OF AID

If a district or agency fails to meet its legally established obligations toward a child with a disability or the child's parent, and as a result the department of education incurs costs to meet these obligations beyond those otherwise incurred under this chapter, the commissioner shall withhold the amount of funds so incurred from any grants due the district or agency under this subchapter.   [Repealed.]

* * *


§ 2967.  AID PROJECTION; STATE SHARE

(a)  On or before December 15, the commissioner shall publish an estimate, by town school district, city school district, union school district, unified union school district, incorporated school district, and the member school districts of an interstate school district, of the amount of state assistance necessary to fully fund sections 2961 through 2963 of this title provide special education services in the ensuing school year.

(b)  The total expenditures made by the state in any fiscal year pursuant to this chapter shall be 60 percent that portion of the statewide total special education expenditures of funds which that are not derived from federal sources.  Special education expenditures shall include:

(1)  costs eligible for grants and reimbursements under sections 2961 through 2963a of this title;

(2)  costs for services for the visually handicapped and hearing impaired;

(3)  costs for the interdisciplinary team program;

(4)  costs for regional multi-handicapped specialists;

(5)  funds expended for training and programs to meet the needs of students with emotional behavioral problems under subsection 2969(c) of this title; and

(6)  funds expended for training under subsection 2969(d) of this title.


§ 2968. REPORTS

(a) On or before November 15, March 15, and August 1 of each school year, each supervisory union and supervisory district shall file a financial report with the commissioner in a form prescribed by the commissioner. The report shall describe total expenditures for special education actually incurred during the preceding period, and shall describe revenues derived from different funding sources, including but not limited to federal assistance, state assistance under this section, and local effort.

(b) If a supervisory union or school district fails to file a complete report by August 1, until the properly completed August 1 report is filed and accepted by the commissioner, the commissioner may withhold any funds due the supervisory union or district under this title and shall subtract $100.00 per business day from funds due to the district under this title for that fiscal year. The commissioner may waive the $100.00 penalty required under this subsection upon appeal by the supervisory union or school district.  The commissioner by rule shall establish procedures for administration of this subsection.

(c)  The commissioner shall review and monitor the reports set forth in subsection (a) of this section as well as the service plans set forth in section 2964 of this title, and shall assist supervisory unions and school districts to complete and submit these documents in a timely and accurate fashion.

(d)  Special education receipts and expenditures shall be included within the audits required of supervisory unions and school districts pursuant to sections 323 and 563(17) of this title.  [Repealed.]

§ 2969.  PAYMENTS

(a)  On or before August 15, December 15, and April 15 of each school year, the state treasurer shall withdraw from the education fund, based on warrant of the commissioner of finance and management, and shall forward to each school district the commissioner of education, the amount of state assistance funds estimated in accordance with state board rules to be necessary to fund sections 2961 through 2963a of this title special education services in the current fiscal period.  The state board shall by rule ensure that the amount of such assistance shall be adjusted to compensate for any overpayments or underpayments determined, after review and acceptance of the reports submitted under section 2968 of this title, to have been made in previous periods.  Notwithstanding this subsection, failure to submit the reports within the timelines established by subsection 2968(a) of this title shall result in the withholding of any payments until the report is filed.

(b)  [deleted.]

(c)  For the purpose of meeting the needs of students with emotional behavioral problems, each fiscal year the commissioner shall use for training, program development, and building school and regional capacity, up to one percent of the state funds appropriated under this subchapter.

(d)  Each fiscal year the commissioner shall use for the training of teachers, administrators and other personnel in the identification and evaluation of, and provision of education services to children who require educational supports, up to 0.75 percent of the state funds appropriated under this subchapter.  In order to set priorities for the use of these funds, the commissioner shall identify effective practices and areas of critical need.  The commissioner may expend up to five percent of these funds for statewide training and shall distribute the remaining funds to school districts or supervisory unions.  School districts and supervisory unions that apply for funds under this section must submit a plan for training which will result in lasting changes in their school systems and give assurances that at least 50 percent of the costs of training including in-kind costs will be assumed by the applicant.  The commissioner shall establish written procedures and criteria for the award of such funds.  In addition, the commissioner may identify schools most in need of training assistance and may pay for 100 percent of help provided to these schools.

* * *

§ 2974.  SPECIAL EDUCATION PROGRAM; FISCAL REVIEW PANEL

(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;

(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.

(b)  The commissioner shall review high spending districts to determine 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.  [Repealed.]

(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.  [Repealed.]

(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.  [Repealed.]

(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.


* * * Student-to-teacher ratio * * *

Sec. 33.  16 V.S.A. § 4003(c) is added to read:

(c)  No district shall receive aid under this chapter if the number of children in any classroom in the district is less than 75 percent of the average number of children per classroom nationally, as the national average is determined by the department of education on or before August 1 of each year.

Sec. 34.  EFFECTIVE DATES

     This bill shall take effect upon passage, except Secs. 1–11 shall apply to fiscal years 2009 and after.



Published by:

The Vermont General Assembly
115 State Street
Montpelier, Vermont


www.leg.state.vt.us