ST. ALBANS – A statewide lawsuit challenging forced school mergers under Act 46 as unconstitutional was filed late last month in the Washington Superior Court.
The lawsuit, filed against the State Board of Education and its individual members, as well as Secretary of Education Dan French, lists several Franklin County school boards, two selectboards and a handful of individual residents from Montgomery among its 54 plaintiffs.
School boards from Franklin, Highgate, Montgomery, Sheldon and Richford have signed on as plaintiffs in the statewide suit, as have the Montgomery and Franklin selectboards.
Montgomery Elementary School students Ivy and Audrey Betts and Chloe and Ethan Silva are also included on the suit, listed by name alongside “parents and taxpayers” Jonathan Betts and Sarah and Matthew Silva.
According to the lawsuit, the State Board of Education’s final statewide education plan has “ignored the plain text” of Act 46 and Act 49, an act amending Act 46, and the “clearly stated legislative intent underlying them,” as well as other statutory law.
“If upheld, the Board’s ‘casual dismissal of statute’ will have lasting impacts for decades, perhaps even centuries, to come,” the plaintiffs argue in the opening paragraphs of the suit. “It is harming our students, our schools, the very fabric of rural life, the democratic process, checks and balances, and the foundational notion that governance requires consent of the governed.”
The State Board of Education’s role in issuing a final state consolidation plan was assigned under Act 46.
Among the complaints lobbied against the State Board of Education, the lawsuit cites the state board’s apparent preference for Act 46’s “preferred structure” of consolidation as opposed to alternative structures proposed under Act 46’s Section 9, claiming this misreads both Act 46 itself and the intent of the legislators who passed it.
The lawsuit’s filing included previously recorded comments from legislators and officials arguing in favor of an “off ramp” to mandatory consolidation when a merger wouldn’t be deemed “practicable” or if an alternative structure could adequately meet Act 46’s goals of administrative efficiency and better educational outcomes.
The lawsuit also argues that consolidation mandated by the state violates the Vermont and federal constitutions’ Taking Clause by reassigning debt and school property without “due process” – namely a vote from the electorate.
Read more about the Act 46 lawsuit in this weekend’s Messenger or subscribe to our digital edition.
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