Week 2: 1/10/22-1/14/22
Link to Audio recording (podcast)
Status of Schools
In the first two weeks of the session, the Education Committees have been hearing testimony regarding the state of Vermont’s schools throughout the week. To read testimony from a variety of witnesses, please see the links below:
Sue Ceglowski: Written Testimony for the Vermont School Boards Association (VSBA)
Jeffrey Francis: Written Testimony for the Vermont Superintendents Association (VSA)
Darren McIntyre: Vermont Council of Special Education Administrators Testimony
Vermont Principals Association Testimony on State of Our Schools
Vermont Principals' Association Testimony for COVID Responses in Schools
Laura Boudreau: SVSU Recovery- Social-Emotional and Health and Well-Being
Mental Health Challenges in Vermont Schools in the Time of COVID
Written Testimony Regarding Mental Health Challenges in Schools
Lauren Conti: Vermont School Counselor Association Testimony
Jeff Fannon: Written Testimony for Vermont National Educator's Association (VTNEA)
As a reminder, you can access information remotely via these links:
The House of Representatives will stream and provide recordings here.
Each legislative committee has its own Youtube channel. The links to stream or watch recorded committee meetings are here.
A weekly list of every scheduled legislative committee meeting can be found here. You can also find each committee’s agenda here.
Town Meeting Day 2022 and Temporary Open Meeting Law Procedures
S.172: a bill authorizing alternative procedures for 2022 annual municipal meetings in response to COVID-19, will allow the legislative bodies of municipalities to vote to: (1) use Australian ballot for town meeting in 2022, and (2) move Town Meeting to a date later in the year. These emergency provisions were in place in 2021 but expired. The bill also allows for a pre-town meeting informational meeting to be held by electronic means without designating a physical location. In that case, the municipality must use technology that permits the attendance of the public through electronic or other means, allows the public to access the hearing by telephone, records the meeting, and posts information about how the public may access the meeting electronically and include that information in the agenda. The bill moved quickly through both chambers and was signed by the Governor on January 14, 2022.
S.222: a bill that implements several temporary provisions of the Open Meeting Law, was passed by both bodies last week. This bill authorizes a meeting of a public body to be held fully remotely without needing to designate a physical meeting location and without requiring staff to be physically present at a location.
If a public body chooses to meet remotely, it must use technology that permits public attendance through electronic or other means and allows public access by telephone. The public body must also post information that enables the public to directly access and participate in the meeting and include it in the meeting’s agenda.
Municipal legislative bodies and school boards that meet remotely under these provisions must record their meetings, unless unusual circumstances make it impossible to do so. In the event of a staffing shortage due to COVID-19, a public body may extend the time limit for the posting of minutes to not more than 10 days from the date of the meeting. Public bodies may post meeting agendas or notices of a special meeting in two designated electronic locations in lieu of the physical designated public places in the municipality, or in a combination of a designated electronic location and a designated public place. Notices and agendas must be posted in or near the municipal clerk’s office and must be provided to the newspapers of general circulation for the municipality.
The temporary provisions of S.222 will expire on January 15, 2023. The Governor is expected to sign the bill this week.
S.223 passed the Senate on Wednesday and was delivered to the Governor on Friday, January 14, 2022. This bill will temporarily suspend the signature requirement for candidates wishing to place their names on the Town Meeting ballot, and also authorize the legislative body of a school district to vote to not commingle the ballots of member municipalities for the 2022 annual district meeting.
Several committees took up pupil weighting over the past week, hearing a summary of the Final Report from the Task Force on the Implementation of the Pupil Weighting Factors. On Friday, January 14, 2022, the Senate Education Committee was focused on English Learners, hearing from AOE Division Director, Federal and Education Support Programs, Anne Bordonaro, whose testimony concluded with the following:
“From a programmatic perspective, the Agency of Education supports the recommendations of the Pupil Weighting Task Force Report regarding funding EL students through a categorical aid approach and enhancing AOE staffing capacity to support LEAs in effectively and equitably educating the state’s growing, and increasingly diverse and geographically widespread, EL student population.”
The Senate Committee on Finance also heard from AOE Finance Manager, Brad James, who provided a presentation on Student Weights Overview.
Vermont State Teachers’ Retirement System (Pensions)
On Monday, January 11, the special legislative task force responsible for developing a plan to pay down ballooning debts of the Vermont teachers’ and state employees’ pensions systems unanimously endorsed a package of recommendations. The recommendations for the Vermont State Teachers’ Retirement System (VSTRS) include:
modify the cost-of-living-adjustment (COLA) calculation and increase employee contributions;
appropriate one-time funds to address the underfunded liability in the pension fund;
allocate FY 2021 General Fund year-end surplus to the VSTRS pension fund and reallocate the General Fund year-end surplus to the pension fund in future years;
beginning in FY 2024, and annually thereafter, fund an additional payment to the Actuarial Determined Employer Contribution (ADEC) using monies saved from a reduction on the required annual unfunded liability amortization payment until the plan reaches a 90 percent funded status; and
prefund other postemployment benefits by making a one-time $13.3 million Education Fund appropriation into the Retired Teachers’ Health and Medical Benefits Fund and creating a prefunding schedule that funds the normal cost from the Education Fund.
To learn more, please read the Executive Summary of the plan; Vermont State Teachers’ Retirement System recommendations begin on page 40. Legislators must now turn this plan into a bill that will need the approval of both the House and the Senate before making its way to the Governor for final approval. Senate Government Operations will lead on this bill and will take up pensions every Friday afternoon until they pass a bill; if interested, please follow these meetings on the Senate Government Operations livestream. The Senate Finance Committee’s agenda indicates that they will hear testimony from the Joint Fiscal Office on the