2 Vermont districts sue state to stop a forced merger

Dec. 14, 2018
The Vermont school board has directed several small districts to consolidate in the name of greater efficiency.

The first lawsuit challenging the state of Vermont’s authority to force school districts to merge under Act 46 school consolidation legislation has been filed:

Vermont Public Radio reports that the Elmore-Morristown Unified Union School District and the Stowe School District have sued the State Board of Education.

A group of about 25 districts also are working on a separate appeal of Act 46 forced merger decisions, but Elmore-Morristown Unified Union School District board member David Bickford says the two districts decided to file their own suit.

“We feel that the specifics of our situation are quite different from the districts that joined together,” Bickford says. “We believe that our suit would be better handled on its own. We contend that we have indeed met the goals of Act 46.”

Act 46, enacted in 2015, provided incentives for districts to merge voluntarily and called for consolidation of school systems that were still operating at less-than-desired efficiency. The state school board voted last month to require the consolidation of several districts that have not merged or developed an alternative governance structure.

The State Board voted 5-4 to merge the Elmore-Morristown and Stowe districts, even though voters in the towns rejected a merger proposal and the acting Secretary of Education’s proposed statewide plan recommended against merging the districts.

“What distresses us is the fact that we have been given no rationale for their decision,” Bickford says. “They just did it. They didn’t say why they overrode the secretary’s decision and why they chose not to reconsider it when several members of the board questioned the process, the procedure and the rationale for decision-making.”

Bickford says the lawsuit also challenges the State Board of Education’s authority to force a merger without action by the General Assembly. He asserts that the board has failed to consider the school districts’ alternative plan before voting to merge the districts.

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