Vermont Education Secretary Rebecca Holcombe’s abrupt resignation last week leaves the state’s ambitious district consolidation process in the lurch.
Holcombe, who was appointed in 2014, announced last Tuesday, March 27 that her last day would be April 1. She did not provide any reasons for her resignation.
For the last three years, she’s been officiating over Act 46, a state law outlining a complex process that induces the state’s many school districts to merge with their neighboring districts. Districts that successfully merge are given tax breaks. For districts that don’t merge, citizens will be taxed extra.
The process is politically thorny since so many districts have only one school that serves as the heart of its community.
Holcombe has in recent weeks been meeting with school board members of about 60 school districts in the state that don’t want to merge with their neighbors. The state’s department of education has the ability to override districts that don’t want to merge. The deadline for districts to decide whether or not to merge is June 1.
“I will be surprised, really suprised, and very upset, if we are sticking to this June 1 deadline now that we have this very abrupt resignation,” Mary Niles, a school board member of Montgomery, Vt., school district said, according to the Associated Press.
Republican Gov. Phil Scott, meanwhile, said in a letter to the state’s board of education that he wants to replace Holcombe quickly and that the next education secretary doesn’t necessarily have to have experience in education. He did not say how much he’s willing to pay. Holcombe was paid $126,793.60, according to an Education Week analysis of the nation’s state chiefs.
“Vermont has one of the best education systems in the country,” he wrote. “We do, however, face a diverse range of challenges. These include a consistently declining student population (a trend we do not expect to change within the next decade), persistent inequality and performance gaps, and social and human services pressures. I ask that when you evaluate candidates, you prioritize applicants who, above all else, have experience managing complex issues (not necessarily in education), share my optimistic vision of what our system of education must be, and have enthusiasm for the work of Vermont’s school boards.
A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.