On Wednesday, the Senate Education Committee took up the latest draft of their miscellaneous education bill. One of the major components of the bill is study on the compensation and staffing levels for the State Board of Education (SBE).
Chairman Campion raised the question for the Committee about whether they have consensus to “hire a third party to do this work” involved with the study. In a previous draft, the Joint Fiscal Office (JFO) would have done much of the work.
Senator Weeks asked about the language used being “gender, racial and ethnic.” He suggested that there “are a 1,000 categories of diversity and why we keep focusing on these three and not others.” He gave the example of religious diversity, and questioned “why not just leave it as diversity?” Campion suggested it was about having our boards look a lot more like the rest of Vermont. “We are a pretty white state,” he added.
Senator Hashim understand what Weeks was pointing out and asked to hear from the State Equity Director about these questions. Campion argued that the SBE is sharing staff with Agency of Education (AOE), and they also are undercompensated. So, while “we admire diversity”, it’s not a very diverse Board. He wants to see them be more independent from AOE.
Campion suggested he may draft so new language around membership requirements. Currently there are ten members, including two secondary students appointed by the Governor.
Senator Gulick voiced her belief that compensation of board members is linked with attaining diverse memberships. She is glad to hear the Governor has made a commitment to boards being diverse but “who is holding him accountable to that and I would love to see some disabled students involved.”
Weeks jumped on that, saying “see now you ARE creating a lens. If you spell out geographic, gender, ethnic, racial, age, religion etc. you are creating a lens. Why create a lens?” Gulick responded that “racial diversity is very different from gender diversity which is very different from the voice of the disabled… each is unique.” Weeks as adamant that “at any moment in time those balances change.”
Their overall goal is a staffing structure that allows more Vermonters access to these roles on the board. Secondly, what does the SBE need for staff and funds to be able to actually do what they are charged with. They are contemplating creating a summer study committee to dig into these topics.