Temporary reprieve on mergers for some Vermont schools

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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) Time: 31 school district across Vermont say that's what they need, giving the state time to respond to the lawsuit against the Act 46 mergers and the courts time to consider the school districts' appeal.

"You have a handful of people who may not have even visited that community, who certainly don't live there, deciding we know better than you do," lawyer Dave Kelley said.

The school districts think the state Board of Education got it wrong and, for various reasons, each is fighting.

The Agency of Education said it would not comment on ongoing legal cases but provided a memo it sent out that allows schools to wait to combine budgets and school leadership until the third week of February.

Kelley says this extra time is critical to prevent lasting damage.

"If the appellants prevail, it will be almost impossible to separate and put the pieces back together again," Kelley said.

But not every district is in on the agreement. Athens School District and Huntington School District are suing the State Board of Education.

"We're pursuing the legal appeal," said Tracy Wrend, the superintendent of the Lamoille South Supervisory Union.

Wrend says the district is also suing on its own to make sure its interests are advocated for. It, too, is asking for more time and the ability to plan a new Elmore-Morristown budget separate from Stowe.

"The court has not taken that up yet," Wrend said.

Despite the different approaches, the schools all know one thing:

"Once the Act 46 train has gone too far down the track, bringing it back to the station is almost impossible," Kelley said.

The districts represented by Kelley hope a judge can consider its case before the new mid-February deadline

There are many different arguments for why these communities want to stop the mergers. For example, you have communities with lots of debt like Enosburgh heaping their debt onto communities with very little debt, like Richford.

Kelley said towns didn't have enough time to solve for problems like this.

Other communities argue there are winter travel concerns. Montgomery, for example, could have a tough time getting its students to schools outside the area.

Kelley says this merger process has also made it more difficult for communities that did not want to merge to apply for Small Schools grants and made it easier for those who voluntarily merged.