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Act 46 Forced Mergers On Hold After State Reaches Agreement With Group Of School Districts

A group of people around tables at a State Board of Education meeting.
Howard Weiss-Tisman
The State Board of Education, shown in this file photo from North Clarendon in October 2018, issued its statewide plan on Nov. 28, 2018. A group of school districts filed appeal over the plan in Washington County Superior Court late last year.

Many involuntary mergers under Act 46 are on hold — for now. This comes after lawyers on both sides of the legal issue agreed there needs to be additional time to brief what they deem to be difficult and complex issues.

An agreement was reached Monday between the Attorney General’s Office and the group of school districts across Vermont that appealed the State Board of Education’s statewide school merger plan. That appeal was filed in late December in Washington County Superior Court.

This new agreement, which was filed with the court Monday, puts the forced mergers on hold until at least Feb. 15.

David Kelley, one of the attorneys representing the school districts, said the agreement slows down the merger process and gives the two sides more time to work with the court.

The districts have already asked for an injunction, which would put a longer hold on the process, but the judge has not yet ruled on that request.

School districts were planning to hold special meetings in the coming weeks to elect board members to the newly merged school boards, but those elections are also now on hold.

The Vermont Agency of Education sent a memo Monday out to the school districts involved with the appeal, that stated:

“Part of the interim scheduling agreement will require your new union school district to hold its organizational meeting beginning in the third week in February, rather than the date originally warned for the organizational meeting.”

School boards are also working on their budgets, which need to be approved before the end of January so they can be considered for town meeting.

It is not clear if school boards that were reluctantly abiding by the school district consolidation law will develop independent budgets, or spending plans aligned with the merged districts.

The Agency of Education, in its memo, promised to provide more information and guidance documents as soon as possible.

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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