FRANKLIN – The Franklin School Board decided Tuesday night to join a class action lawsuit against the state of Vermont with the hopes that an injunction requested by said lawsuit may stall a forced merger recommended by the Agency of Education.
The school board also signed a pair of letters – one from the Franklin school board and another from the Franklin Northwest Supervisory Union (FNWSU) – reiterating the school board’s opposition to Act 46 while suggesting that the supervisory union would be open to feedback related to their alternative governance structure (AGS).
Franklin’s school board, which has long opposed the possibility of merging with neighboring schools in Sheldon, Swanton and Highgate, signed onto the lawsuit following an hour-and-a-half long executive session, unanimously deciding in favor of joining the lawsuit.
According to the board’s chair Bob Berger, the lawsuit provided what appeared to be the best route in opposing a consolidation of the Missisquoi Valley Union (MVU) High School member districts of Swanton, Highgate and Franklin – one of 18 forced mergers recommended by the Secretary of Education under Act 46.
As a part of Act 46, the Secretary of Education was required to draft a school consolidation plan for the State Board of Education to consider. That plan, drafted by then-acting Secretary of Education Heather Bouchey and released in June, recommended a forced merger of the MVU districts, spurring protests from Highgate and Franklin in particular.
The plan is now being considered by the State Board of Education, which will decide whether or not to follow through on Bouchey’s recommended consolidations.
The state board must draft an official plan based on those recommendations by November 30.
“The hope is that, with an injunction filed, that will at least buy us some time for our representatives to either amend or draft legislation to insure a more flexible enactment of Act 46,” Berger said during Tuesday night’s meeting.
“I think it’s clear that that is going to be our most effective avenue of opposing a forced merger,” he added.
The lawsuit, organized by statewide groups opposed to Act 46, alleges that a statewide plan enforcing mergers previously recommended by the acting Secretary of Education is in violation of, among other offenses, the Takings Clause in both the federal and state constitutions.
“Under the Takings Clause of the federal and state constitutions, the State Board cannot reassign ownership of school facilities or other property from the towns that own those properties, or reassign debt among the citizens of different towns, without due process and just compensation,” a letter attorney David Kelley sent to the Agency of Education and State Board of Education said. Kelly is representing the school districts which have joined the suit.
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