Overhaul of state vo-tech schools signed into law

Gov. M. Jodi Rell has signed into law a bill aimed at improving the state’s vocational-technical schools.

Rell, who announced she signed the bill Monday, said the law will “strengthen” the schools “in many critical ways.”

Sen. Thomas Gaffey, D-Meriden, co-chairman of the Education Committee said, the law “will resolve the inequity that had evolved” at the state’s vo-tech schools.

The bill was overwhelmingly supported, passing unanimously in both the House and Senate earlier this month.

Numerous vo-tech school administrators have testified on the deteriorating conditions at the 15 state-funded schools. There are 10,200 high school students and 5,500 part-time adult students currently enrolled at the schools.

The bill does several things, including requiring the State Board of Education to hold a hearing and develop a plan if a vo-tech school is to be closed and to transport students from the closed school to another school. It also adds two members with backgrounds in vocational-technical education or manufacturing to the board.

The bill also requires the State Bond Commission to vote twice a year on whether to allocate money for maintenance and equipment at the vo-tech schools and it requires the vo-tech superintendent compile an annual report on the adequacy of funding and resources.

There was some concern drawn by Republicans with requiring the bond commission to vote on additional funding twice a year, worried that it could set a dangerous precedent in requiring what the commission votes on.

The final requirement would retire all school buses 12 years and older, spurred by a Hartford Courant article that reported the majority of vo-tech school buses have major safety violations.

Rell said she is “pleased that the bill will further protect students by bolstering safety requirements for school buses used by the vo-tech system.”

Patricia Ciccone, superintendent of the vo-tech schools, said about half of the school’s 90 buses are 10 years or older. The Bond Commission responded by giving the schools $2 million to help replace the aging buses.