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Act 46 Deadlines Remain Despite Delay In Court Challenge, State Regulators Say

State Board of Education Chair Krista Huling looks over a school district map during a meeting to review Act 46 mergers. A judge has denied a request from more than 30 school districts to temporarily halt the Act 46 merger process.
Howard Weiss-Tisman
VPR file
The State Board of Education issed its statewide plan on Nov. 28, but a group of school districts is appealing the forced mergers included in the plan.

The Agency of Education is recommending that school districts abide by the deadlines spelled out in Act 46, Vermont’s school district consolidation law, even though a court case challenging the law has been delayed.A group of school districts appealed the State Board of Education’s plan forcing some districts to merge with their neighbors.

That appeal is being heard in Washington Superior Court, and the court case was put on hold this week after the two sides agreed that more time was needed to work on the case. But the delay has made an already confusing process even more complicated.

The school districts were supposed to hold organizational meetings this month for the newly merged boards, but those meetings are now also on hold

So, districts have been wondering if it’s still even possible to meet the July 1 deadline for getting the newly merged districts in place.

The Agency of Education sent out a memo this week saying, “Although the postponement of the organizational meeting makes it impossible to warn a vote on proposed amendments prior to the Act 49 deadline, it is still possible for the voters to approve proposed amendments that will take effect before July 1, 2019.”

The memo sent out by the agency also comes as school boards are in the middle of preparing budgets, and as candidates for open school board positions are getting their petitions in to run on Town Meeting Day.

According to the agency memo, the school districts that are being forced to merge are still expected to follow through with the consolidations before July 1, which would effectively put an end to those local school boards.

But if the court case is ruled in their favor, or if the legislature steps in to make changes to Act 46, the local school boards  could survive beyond July 1, and those boards will need members and budgets to operate.

Act 49 is an education law passed last year to try to address some of the issues raised in the original school district consolidation law.

The Attorney General's Office this week also asked Superior Court Judge Mary Miles Teachout, who is hearing the Act 46 case, to step down because her daughter is a school board member in Middlesex, which is a plaintiff district.

The request by the Attorney General’s office also says the judge has a granddaughter in one of the schools involved in the case.

The state is asking that the case be reassigned, which would further delay the already confusing and time-sensitive issue.

All 31 school districts involved in the appeal have signed waivers supporting Teachout’s ability to hear the case.

A spokesman for the Agency of Education declined to comment about the court case.


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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