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Lawsuit Filed Against State Board Of Education Over Act 46 Forced Merger

The exterior of Stowe Middle and High School on a cloudy day.
Amy Kolb Noyes
The Elmore-Morristown Unified Union School District and Stowe School District have filed a suit against the State Board of Education.

The first lawsuit challenging the state’s authority to merge school districts under Act 46 has been filed: The Elmore-Morristown Unified Union School District and the Stowe School District filed a suit Thursday against the State Board of Education.A group of approximately 25 districts are also working on a separate appeal of the Act 46 forced merger decisions, but Elmore-Morristown Unified Union School District board member David Bickford said the two districts from the Lamoille South Supervisory Union decided to file its own suit.

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

The State Board approved the statewide plan on Nov. 28, and districts have 30 days to appeal the plan.

"What distresses us is the fact that we have been given no rationale for their decision." — David Bickford, Elmore-Morristown Unified Union School District board member

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 said. “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 said the lawsuit also challenges the State Board of Education’s authority to force a merge without action by the General Assembly, and he accused the board of not considering the school districts’ alternative plan before voting to merge the districts.

State Board of Education chairwoman Krista Huling declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Howard Weiss-Tisman is Vermont Public’s southern Vermont reporter, but sometimes the story takes him to other parts of the state.
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