This article by Susan Smallheer originally appeared April 11 in the Brattleboro Reformer.
WESTMINSTER — Resistance to the forced Act 46 administrative merger of Westminster, Grafton and Athens’ schools continued unabated Wednesday night. With Education Secretary Dan French sitting in the front row, dozens of residents of the three Windham County towns agreed to recess the organizational meeting of the proposed new elementary school union district. They want a legal opinion on the already existing contract between the Grafton and Athens school boards.
Athens School Board Chairman Harold Noyes asked the group to recess the meeting after about an hour of often-contentious discussion so that the office of Attorney General T.J. Donovan could give a legal opinion on whether the state has the power to void the already existing school merger contract between Grafton and Athens. The two tiny Windham County towns had merged their elementary schools about 10 years ago, and since then have operated a joint school in Grafton.
Stephen Fine, a retired Athens lawyer and member of the Bellows Falls Union High School Board, was one of several people who took pointed exception to the forced merger under Act 46, which was adopted by the state Board of Education on Nov. 30, 2018. The proposed merger is not expected to save the school districts much money — an estimated 1.4%. But under the merger, a portion of Westminster’s larger tax burden would be shifted to Grafton and Athens.
More than once, a speaker noted that participation in the meeting “is in no way intended as an affirmation of the legality of the State Board of Education’s Report and Order on statewide school merger decisions” issued on Nov. 30, 2018. Residents were afraid that even attending the meeting, which had been organized by French, would send the message they were giving up their fight against the forced merger and their lawsuit.
Fine, a former Athens town moderator, immediately challenged French as he tried to open the meeting, and French repeatedly ruled Fine out of order.
Westminster resident and retired Vermont family court judge Patricia Whalen was applauded when she said the towns had been “coerced to be here tonight under threat by the state Board of Education.
Read full article at the Brattleboro Reformer.
(Fair use with written permission from the New England Newspapers Inc.)