Dozens of school boards file lawsuit over forced mergers

Published: Dec. 21, 2018 at 8:53 AM EST
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Dozens of school boards have joined a second lawsuit opposing forced mergers under Act 46, Vermont's controversial school consolidation law.

It argues that the State Board of Education's forced merger of 45 schools last month is unconstitutional and that it went against the will of democratically elected school boards and communities that voted in opposition to a merger.

Former Hazen Union School Board member David Kelley is one of the lawyers working on the case. He says the Board of Education has exceeded its authority.

"What happened went way beyond what I think the Legislature intended. The Legislature said specifically they wanted to support local decision making," Kelley said. "We are dismantling local school boards and it's a seachange in the way we make decisions about our future."

Three years ago, lawmakers passed Act 46 to shrink the number of school districts in Vermont. There were some financial incentives to districts that voluntarily merged. Many took advantage. Others submitted "alternate governance" proposals, which were allowed under the law.

The Elmore-Morristown Unified Union School District and the Stowe School District filed a separate lawsuit against the board last week.

State Board of Education officials have declined to comment on the lawsuits.

Gov. Phil Scott, R-Vermont, last week conceded the authority to forcibly merge school districts should rest with his administration, not with the State Board of Education.

Lawmakers this session are expected to introduce legislation that would either invalidate the forced merger plans or require the approval of voters within the districts.