Final decisions coming this week on Act 46 mergers

The state is making final decisions on school mergers this week in a move that will bring Act 46 to its messy conclusion — and likely spark new lawsuits.

Once all merger decisions are finalized — expected Wednesday, but no later than Friday — communities that couldn’t find a suitable partner must choose whether to submit to the State Board of Education or continue the fight in court. Districts that avoid a continued fight can possibly pick up some financial incentives and gain more control over the merger terms.

But the fights may well continue.

Former Hazen Union School Board chair and lawyer David Kelley is at the forefront of the legal pushback against the mergers. He is organizing a multi-district lawsuit against the state to challenge Act 46’s constitutionality.

David Kelley

David Kelley

“[On Wednesday] we’ll know what they are doing,” Kelley said. He added that the specifics of a lawsuit will start to take shape after that.

This lawsuit would be next in line to another lawsuit by political activist H. Brooke Paige, who made his closing statements to the Vermont Supreme Court in October challenging the law’s constitutionality.

For areas like the Orleans Southwest Supervisory Union, located in the lower Northeast Kingdom, forced mergers are a shock because for years state bureaucrats said the local districts they were too complex to merge. Districts suddenly being asked to merge include Greensboro, Stannard, Hardwick and Woodbury.

“The schools were somewhat misled,” Kelley told True North. “They were told for years that they were the example of schools that could not be merged, and now the board says ‘we are gonna force-merge these communities.’ If this was a commercial practice, this would be a deceptive trade practice.”

Victoria Von Hessert, chair of the Lakeview Union School Board in Greensboro, agrees the state gave local leaders a false impression of likely outcomes.

“[It] was our understanding going into it that we couldn’t actually be merged because we thought we had different structures,” she said. “It caught everybody off balance, and you know it takes a little while to get your footing back under you again and try to figure out what that’s gonna mean for your community and most importantly for your schools.”

Von Hessert said some leaders wish to take advantage of tax incentives, grant money, and the ability to write articles of agreement, which are being offered to districts that take initiative towards a merger. The articles of agreement are especially important, she said, because this allows local districts to address potential school closures, sharing of debt, who gets representation on the new board, and more.

Elsewhere in the state, Barre City and Barre Town schools also are under pressure to merge against the voters’ will.

In early November the communities voted, and in Barre City, 1,887 voters were in favor of consolidation, versus 567 against. In Barre Town, 2,106 were against a merger compared to 1,262.

Barre City School Board Chair Sonya Spaulding said the state this week will either reassert its decision to require a merger or else change its decision. Then, in January, there will be a revote just for Barre Town residents. She said this creates all different combinations of outcomes.

Spaulding also said the advantages to initiating the merger at the local level includes tax breaks, grant money and having more control over the articles of agreement.

The Barre Town revote is very important because if the State Board doubles down on Wednesday and calls for a merger, the vote allows one last opportunity to obtain the benefits of an unforced merger.

“The one sticking point … is that revote that Barre Town has petitioned for,” Spaulding said. “If that passes with the adequate number of yes votes then we can still get it incentives and we can still have the articles of agreement, because they are petitioning the vote that we just had.”

Another controversial merger being closely watched involves the Stowe and Elmore-Morristown districts. The State Board of Education last month to merge the schools’ boards, despite a recommendation to the contrary in June by then-interim Secretary of Education Heather Bouchey.

Representatives from those districts argue that they are already achieving greater efficiency standards by working within the current supervisory union structure.

Some communities, in a last-ditch effort to avoid losing control of their schools, have proposed closing their schools. In Holland, a small town by the state’s northeast Canadian border, residents voted to close the school and send children to Derby. The hope is that the community can maintain control over the building and perhaps reopen as a private school in the future.

Michael Bielawski is a reporter for True North Reports. Send him news tips at bielawski82@yahoo.com and follow him on Twitter @TrueNorthMikeB.

Images courtesy of Essex Westford School District and David Kelley

2 thoughts on “Final decisions coming this week on Act 46 mergers

  1. “The most erroneous assumption is to the effect that the aim of public education is to fill the young of the species with knowledge and awaken their intelligence, and so make them fit to discharge the duties of citizenship in an enlightened and independent manner. Nothing could be further from the truth. The aim of public education is not to spread enlightenment at all; it is simply to reduce as many individuals as possible to the same safe level, to breed and train a standardized citizenry, to put down dissent and originality. That is its aim in the United States, whatever the pretensions of politicians, pedagogues and other such mountebanks, and that is its aim everywhere else.”
    H.L. Mencken

    Godspeed Brooke Paige, David Kelly and everyone supporting them. Vermont’s public school monopoly has become the antithesis of education and individual liberty. But consider carefully these words of caution from Friedrich Nietzsche and James Madison.

    “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. …if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.” Nietzsche

    Many of the proponents of these law suits are simply fighting over who controls the vast funding at the great education watering hole. There is, after all, little difference between a State imposed tyranny and one imposed by the local and so-called ‘democratic’ goverance of the traditional school board/town meeting governance that created this monster in the first place. Little do most of us realize that Democracy is the problem, which is why we live in a Constitutional Republic.

    “Democracy is the most vile form of government. … democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property: and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.”
    – James Madison (1751-1836) Father of the Constitution, 4th President of the U. S.

    In Vermont, the best way to insure our education liberty is through the self-determination of Education Choice Tuitioning.

  2. Montpelier jokers just got voted back in and are free to exercise their continued power the masses. Sheeple that voted for them don’t give a damn about the kids in reality and are dunce to the matter.

    This shows they have the power to control. The jokers don’t have a clue what they are doing and the grief and costs. With liberals they use other people’s money to achieve their mis-led goals.

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