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Reforms Giving Vo-Tech Schools More Autonomy Sent To Rell For Signature

Grace E. Merritt

May 04, 2010

A bill unanimously passed Monday by the House is intended to erase the image of the state's vocational-technical schools as neglected stepchildren by giving them more say over their budgets, a better chance at getting state bond money for repairs and a stronger voice on the State Board of Education.

"This is a sea change in the way the vo-tech schools are administered and budgeted," said state Sen. Tom Gaffey, D-Meriden, co-chairman of the legislature's education committee.

The bill, which won unanimous approval Thursday in the Senate, now heads to the governor for a signature.

Gaffey championed technical school reform after legislators in February were told how some of the state's 16 vo-tech schools had leaking roofs and the system was plagued by a broken-down bus fleet and a centralized budget process that left some schools so strapped for cash that they didn't have basic supplies, such as paper or shop materials.

The bill passed Monday is designed to make sure the schools are properly maintained, have up-to-date equipment and safe school buses and are allowed to prepare their own budgets rather than rely on one budget under the state Department of Education.

"Finally, we can try to ensure the vo-tech schools receive parity when it comes to their capital needs, buses and their administration, and they'll have a far more transparent and accountable budget system," Gaffey said.

The bill would:

•Require the State Bond Commission to vote twice a year on whether to issue the technical school system at least $2 million for general maintenance and capital equipment.

•Allow each school to develop its own budget.

•Add two people to the State Board of Education who work in manufacturing or are alumni of vo-tech schools.

•Make sure one board member has a vocational-agriculture background.

•Require that a public hearing be held before the state closes a vo-tech school.

•Require the state to replace any school bus that is 12 years old or older or has persistent safety violations.

The Courant reported in February that nearly 60 percent of the technical schools' bus fleet had serious safety violations.

Gov. M. Jodi Rell said Monday she wouldn't make a decision on whether to sign the bill until she researches it further.

Some Republican lawmakers expressed concerns about requiring the State Bond Commission to act on a specific maintenance appropriation, saying they're worried that would undermine the commission's authority.

State Department of Education spokesman Tom Murphy said the new budgeting process would require some changes.

"We do appreciate that they have passed this legislation because it brings resources and attention to the system and recognizes that the success of the system is important to the economy."

State Rep. Andrew Fleischmann, D-West Hartford, who as co-chairman of the legislature's education committee helped usher the bill through the House, was happy about its passage.

"A new day has dawned for the vo-tech schools in Connecticut," Fleischmann said. "It's been far too long in coming, but this will ensure the students, teachers and administration have more attention paid to them in the technical schools, the state's original magnet schools."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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