In furthering our vision of an informed and active electorate, we are providing summaries of key bills considered during the 2022 legislative session. H.456 is one of these.
H.456 Bill Summary
The bill was introduced into the House of Representatives and assigned to the Education Committee. The bill states that the Vermont State College (VSC) system should establish priorities, budget, allocate its resources and develop capabilities to ensure students successfully achieve their academic goals as follows:
- And, be relevant to Vermont needs
The bill requires that the Vermont Student Assistance Corporation (VSAC) report to the legislature on the progress of attaining affordable housing and information on student debt by loan type. The bill also asked that VSAC and the Agency of Education report all high school students complete the free application for federal student aid as a condition of graduation.
The bill gives VSC the right to acquire, hold, and dispose of property, which has been a controversial thing given the consolidation of the VSC brands. Some worry that this would allow the state colleges to shut down and sell campuses. The State of Vermont shall support and maintain VSC. The bill requires VSAC and VSC to recommend a definition of ‘affordability standard’ by July 1, 2023.
The bill passed unanimously out of the House and was sent to the Senate Education committee. The only major change made by the Senate was to expand the board of trustees by two positions – recommended to be filled by one student and one member of the faculty or staff. This proposal created a great deal of controversy as to whether a faculty or staff union member should be made part of the board of trustees.
Testimony for and against this idea was presented along with discussions of how the board of trustees currently includes students, faculty and staff. The bill with this amendment passed out of the Senate but the House refused to concur and requested a conference committee be appointed. The conference committee could not find a compromise so chose to let the bill die. It is assumed that the bill will be introduced again during the 2023-2024 session
Updates From the Last 6 Weeks of the Legislative Session
May 5th Update
House Education reviewed the changes to H.456 from the Senate on Thursday. The Senate added a new provision (last minute) that would create a faculty member position on the Vermont State College (VSC) Board of Trustees. This is similar to a provision in S.248 the failed to gain support in the Senate. Maine just vetoed a similar bill.
The Committee questioned why this issue was just coming to them so late in the session. Chairwoman Webb voice concern about conflict of interest and that this member of the board must understand they have fiduciary responsibility to the institution. There was also concern expressed that faculty member would probably be a union member which might present a conflict of interest if the board was dealing with a strike or other union related issues. She noted that this was a significant step and that the Committee needed to look at the big picture.
Tom Borchert, faculty witness to the UVM Board of Trustees, was open to the idea of a non-voting member, but it means that the member is not included in executive meetings nor provided much opportunity to talk.
He believes boards benefit from broader voices and that the issue of conflict is misleading. Faculty would have to recuse themselves if they were on the board.
Representative Dickinson, the legislative member of the VSC Board of Trustees, also testified. She noted that they have accomplished several milestones:
- They have gotten all four faculty assemblies to work together with a consultant
- Appointment of new president, Parwinder Grewal, who recently served in leadership roles at the University of Texas
- Recently received waiver to continue working on accreditation of the newly consolidated Vermont State University
Dickinson, on behalf of the trustees, is opposed to the amendment as it presents unreconcilable conflicts of interest. The attorney for the the University also spoke. She does not want an employee serving on the board in two roles – as employee and trustee. Everything they do is open to the public and there is plenty of opportunity to weigh in with concerns and suggestions. In the recent consolidation process (which is what this whole issue stems from) the Board has also held listening sessions to prompt community involvement.
The UVM board chair, Ron Lumbra, also joined the conversation. His occupation is working with boards to improve their efficiencies and structure. He is concerned that when boards get too big a smaller group such as the executive board winds up running things. He was also also worried about the board's top donors who want board members to be totally independent (aka not controlled by unions).
The Committee decided to not accept this part of the bill and requested a Conference Committee. All in concurrence at 11-0-0.
April 15th Update
The Conference Committee looked at a proposal from the House on H.456 Monday. The bill would implement a 2-year pilot project to allow for staff and faculty participation on the Vermont State College Board of Trustees. A study would also be included to evaluate the outcomes.
Under the new proposal, the Joint Fiscal Office (JFO) would retain a consultant on board governance at UVM and VSC, who will make separate findings for each institution. This will be done by a non-profit non-partisan education consulting firm. They would look at current board structure and representation and an advisory group would provide input to the consultant (however they cannot vote on or alter the reports). Senator Hooker (an original sponsor of the bill) does not want another study, and questioned the need for it.
The Senate was not interested in a study, they want to come back next year and look at this issue in Committee again. After some back and forth, neither side was willing to compromise and the bill was deemed dead and will not move forward this session.
The bill was remained unpassed and must be re-introduced at a future date.
Page last updated 8/12/2022
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