Mike Varonka teaches students at Emmett O'Brien Vocational Technical School in Ansonia. CTMirror.org File Photo
Emmett O’Brien Vocational Technical School in Ansonia. CTMirror.org File Photo
Emmett O’Brien Vocational Technical School in Ansonia. CTMirror.org File Photo

The House of Representatives voted 96-50 Saturday night to approve and send to the Senate a bill that would make the state’s vocational-technical school system an independent agency beginning on July 1, 2019.

The Connecticut Technical High School System and its 17 schools currently operate under the state Department of Education. The day-to-day operations of the system are handled by the system’s superintendent and its governing board.

The system has faced scrutiny since the resignation of its superintendent last month amid allegations she approved improper contracts with marketing agencies. The bill, which had been drafted before the allegations became public, received universal support from Democrats, as well as from 20 Republicans, in the House vote.

House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, said the vo-tech school system is “an underutilized asset” under the current structure.

“Freeing the vo-tech system from under the Department of Education umbrella will allow for a more focused and streamlined approach to their mission, including increased direct partnerships with businesses on both curriculum and expanding job opportunities,” Aresimowicz said.

Among the bill’s provisions is a measure that would attempt to protect the system’s funding for educational and instructional needs from rescissions issued by the governor to close a state budget gap mid-fiscal year. It stipulates that the governor must give priority to the system’s needs over those of other agencies when making rescissions.

The bill drew opposition from some Republicans who were concerned that designating the system as an agency would leave its funding insufficiently protected amid state’s budgetary crisis and place its hiring decisions in the hands of the governor’s budget office.

Rep. Gail Lavielle, R-Wilton, said keeping it under the umbrella of the Department of Education – at least until another solution can be devised – would continue to shield it from some of those effects. She also said the recent revelations about the system’s contracts warranted supervision by another entity.

Other lawmakers voiced opposition to the bill’s provision to spend $150,000 on a contractor to help the system develop a transition plan beginning this July.

Kyle is CT Mirror's Director of Membership and Digital Innovation. His newsroom experience includes roles as a freelance reporter and then a full-time general assignment reporter at CT Mirror and as State Capitol beat writer for UConn's Daily Campus. He graduated from UConn with a bachelor's degree in journalism in 2017.

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