Cooperative Education Services (H.630) - March 12, 2024

The House Education Committee reviewed a bill, H.630, on Tuesday that would allow for cooperative education services to be provided by a group of school districts. These services would be intended to provide the “least restrictive environment” for students that require a “higher level of care.” Most of the students who would receive these services have mental or behavioral issues that are disruptive in the normal school environment. Today many of these students have 1-on-1 para-educators which does not provide the necessary level of therapy and contributes to classroom disruption and high staffing ratios.

The bill allows supervisory unions to create Boards of Cooperative Education Services (BOCES) but caps the statewide number of these at 7.

Representative Brady noted that was as a result of testimony from the Superintendents Association and the regional cooperation exists but are perhaps not distributed in the way they should be. The bill does not require the development of the BOCES follow the existing regional relationships, but there is a hope that they would build upon previous work.

See the current draft of the bill.

Heather Bouchey (Interim Secretary, Agency of Education) joined the Committee and began by saying “We support efforts to achieve scale statewide and to address and increase regional efforts for both educational and workforce issues throughout the state.”

However, she noted that this would add “another structure in a tiny state” and there are already Memorandums of Understanding that Supervisory Unions can enter into with one another.

Brady was sympathetic, saying that the “new fiscal issues” seem to be best addressed by “more consolidated and operated at scale system that is voluntary” but with some incentives. Chairman Conlon followed by saying that there may be districts that don’t have the need for a full-time facilities manager (as an example) and this model allows for some regionalization.

Anne Bordonaro (Interim Deputy Secretary, Agency of Education) joined the conversation, arguing that the draft bill is pretty broad. She wondered whether the BOCES model would attempt to take on title programs (Federal titles) and what authority would be transferred over to a BOCES to achieve compliance here. She noted that BOCES in NY handle Career and Technical Education Centers. They are looking at these questions internally at the Agency of Education (AOE) Federal Programs Division. It is perhaps not spelled in the bill but is not restricted.

This introduces issues around designation of Local Education Agency (LEA) which the AOE is responsible for. If BOCES start seeking federal funding as a pass-through then it creates a conflict with the existing practice of designating the school district as the LEA.

They offered to provide some guardrail language to make it clear who would receive LEA designations and how that would be determined.

The questions around duplication of administrative structures still persisted. Conlon felt that these could be worked out in the Articles of Agreement that create the BOCES. Representative Williams asked why these boards would not just be a resource the district calls up for connections to resources, and not a decision-making operation?
Conlon comment that “who knows what they will evolve into… but suppose a BOCES decides to hire a staffer who offers skills at application for Federal grants. The question is who directs the work of that person and what tasks they undertake?”

NOTE: This does sound a lot like a new administrative structure. A better approach may be to consolidate supervisory unions from the existing 52 into something that better reflects Vermont’s scale. Thus we would be reducing administrative overhead and gaining efficiencies of scale.

Bouchey jumped in saying that “from the AOE perspective more latitude is concerning to us because it can place the AOE in some really tricky spots… who supposed to get the money?” Perhaps even will affect the data systems they maintain. They may even need additional staffing at AOE to oversee the BOCES as they evolve.

Conlon pointed to the guardrail language AOE offered and suggested they pursue that.

 

The House Education Committee came back to H.630 later in the day on Tuesday with Representative Brady expressing frustration with the Agency of Education (AOE) for coming forward “so late” with concerns about the bill. Chairman Conlon felt the AOE language may be unneeded at least as far as directing conflicts between parties (Local Education Agencies and Boards of Cooperative Education Services) with regards competitive grant applications. Legislative Council has sent some questions back out AOE to seek clarity and they will postpone their Vote until later today pending response. They felt they would find language that addresses the concerns of the Superintendents Association and also sets up clarity for AOE designate alternate LEAs for Federal title funds. 

The final language settled on was version 9.1 of the draft bill, which passed the next day on a vote of 11-0-1.


Donate Volunteer Reduce Property Tax Burden

connect

get updates