SWANTON — An agreement between lawyers who have challenged forced school district mergers and the state will delay the organizational meetings for new districts until after Feb. 15, but does not change the timeline for mergers that was included Act 46.
Locally, there are two ordered mergers which will create new districts: Missisquoi Valley Union and its three member districts of Franklin, Highgate and Swanton; and the Richford and Enosburgh districts. The agreement will delay the organizational meetings for those districts.
It is less clear how the agreement will impact a third ordered merger, Sheldon and Montgomery joining the Northern Mountain Valley Union (NMVU) district.
NMVU was created by the voluntary merger of the Bakersfield and Berkshire districts. An organizational meeting was already held when the district was originally formed.
Lynn Cota, superintendent for the Franklin Northeast Supervisory Union, of which NMVU is a member, said that the district is awaiting guidance from the Agency of Education (AOE) about how to proceed. AOE’s attorney, in turn, is consulting with the attorney general’s office and the lawsuit attorneys, she explained.
Both Cota and Franklin Northwest Supervisory Union Superintendent Julie Regimbal said that while delaying the organizational meetings, the districts will need to continue planning for the ordered mergers.
Under Act 46, districts ordered to merge were given a very tight timeline to become operational. They are expected to have a fully formed new district with a board and a budget in place on July 1, 2019.
The trick comes in the steps required to get there. A transitional board elected at the organizational meeting will need to warn for the election of a permanent board. The permanent board will then have to write a budget, which will be presented to voters at a third meeting. And all of this must happen at warned meetings held before July 1.
The agreement between the state and the lawsuit attorneys delays the first step until the third week of February, but doesn’t halt the process.
“We still need to proceed under the state board orders,” said Regimbal.
Cota concurred, stating, “We’re under the state board. Right now that’s the only order.”
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