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Judge dismisses town of Roxbury's lawsuit against school district

People stand near white voting booths with red edges and an image of the American flag with the word vote
Mike Dougherty
Vermont Public
Montpelier residents vote on their school and city budgets at City Hall on March 5, 2024.

A Washington County judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by the town of Roxbury against the Montpelier-Roxbury Public School District, which sought to block an upcoming vote on a school budget that would close the Roxbury Village School.

Local voters rejected Montpelier-Roxbury’s first budget proposal on Town Meeting Day, when over two dozen other school district budgets around Vermont met similar fates. The Montpelier-Roxbury Board of School Directors subsequently crafted a revised spending plan that would shutter Roxbury’s tiny K-4 elementary and instead bus its 42 students to Montpelier, starting this fall.

The Roxbury community has since rallied in opposition to the school board’s plan. The town’s selectboard filed suit last week, alleging the March 5 budget vote was invalid because the school board had held its informational hearing after voting had begun. Roxbury’s lawsuit sought an injunction to cancel the upcoming April 30 vote on the district’s revised budget. The suit also called for a revote on the budget that failed last month, which did not envision closing the Roxbury school.

Superior Court judge Timothy Tomasi held a hearing for the case on Tuesday, but ruled afterward that Roxbury’s suit was legally moot. On Monday, the Montpelier-Roxbury school board passed a resolution validating the March 5 vote, which, according to Tomasi, was all that was required by law to cure alleged procedural defects.

Monday’s school board action aside, Tomasi also argued that the procedural error alleged in Roxbury's suit — the school board holding its informational hearing when voting was already underway — would not have been sufficient to “establish the extraordinary grounds needed to upset a concluded election.” Besides, he argued, other “democratic remedies” remain available to the town of Roxbury. They could, for example, “attempt to rally public support to save the Roxbury Village School and defeat the budget on April 30.”

“No doubt, the loss of the school is an irreparable harm. It is not likely, however, that invalidating the March 5 vote would have any chance of averting that consequence,” the judge said.

In a statement, Roxbury Selectboard chairman Jon Guiffre said that although the town “did not prevail in its legal challenge, our communities can still hold the school district accountable.”

“We are disappointed our initial efforts are not moving forward, but the community will determine our next steps in the coming days,” Guiffre wrote. “At the very least, we will be demanding that the school district not close their budget gap on the backs of the most rural kids.”

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Lola is Vermont Public's education and youth reporter, covering schools, child care, the child protection system and anything that matters to kids and families. She's previously reported in Vermont, New Hampshire, Florida (where she grew up) and Canada (where she went to college).
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