Report from Montpelier

Commissioner of Education and Agency of Education

by Rep. Joan Lenes

We are in the last two weeks of this legislative session and the end of a biennium. I will be at Bruegger’s Bagel until one Tuesday past our adjournment. I appreciate the opportunity to talk with those of you who have stopped with concerns, issues or just to have coffee.

Several of the committees between the House and Senate are already in conference committees or have concurred with the other body and have come to agreement. The committees of jurisdiction for the Capital Bill agreed with each other with a few amendments and did not need to go into a committee of conference. We have worked in tandem this session. The approach has been different because of Tropical Storm Irene and the desperate need to resolve the future of both the Vermont State Hospital and the Waterbury complex. I am very pleased with the decisions made, although we still have a long road ahead before we “turn the key” at either location.

Our Education committees did need a committee of conference for H.440, legislation that enables the Governor to appoint a Secretary of Education.  This legislation elevates the Commissioner of Education to the cabinet level position of Secretary and replaces the Department of Education with an Agency of Education under the Secretary’s oversight.

The legislation gives the Governor the authority to select the Secretary from a pool of at least three candidates proposed by the State Board of Education. Candidates must have expertise in education management and policy and have demonstrated leadership abilities. The Secretary will assume all the powers and responsibilities of the Commissioner of Education as of January 1, 2013. The Commissioner will continue to serve until a Secretary is appointed.  

The legislation amends the make-up of the State Board of Education by giving priority to appointment of individuals with a demonstrated commitment to quality education. Board members will be from geographically diverse locations throughout the state, to the extent possible, and will serve a term of six years. The Secretary will serve as a non-voting Board member.

The Senate’s version of the bill gives the State Board a greater role in education policy development. In addition to the responsibility to “review and evaluate the Governor/Secretary’s policies” delineated by the House bill, the Senate requires the Board to “establish and advance” the state’s education policy. The Board is required to engage local school boards and the education community in the state’s education policy development. The Board also must review and comment on the budget for the Agency of Education prepared by the Secretary for the Governor. The bill requires the State Board to report annually to the Governor and General Assembly on the policies it has made to guide the Agency’s work and on engaging citizens of Vermont.

The Secretary is required to prepare a budget for the agency and submit it to the Governor after review by the state board. By Sept. 1 of each year, the Secretary must present the administration’s educational proposals to the Board for consideration.  These proposals will be based on best practices.

 You can always reach me at 999-9363, or jlenes197@gmail.com, or stop by Bruegger’s Bagel Tuesday mornings from 7:30-8:30 am when Kate Webb and I will be there.

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