The following press release was shared with the media today.
For Immediate Release
December 13, 2018
Elmore-Morristown Unified Union and Stowe School District File Lawsuit
Challenging State Board of Education’s Forced Merger Decision
Montpelier, VT - The Elmore-Morristown Unified Union (EMUU) and the Stowe School District (SSD) today filed a lawsuit against the State Board of Education. The lawsuit challenges the Board’s decision to reject the recommendation of the local communities and the Secretary of Education and force a merger under Act 46.
“The State Board’s decision was in violation of due process and Act 46,” said David Bickford, EMUU School Board Member. “The State Board was unwilling to consider the merits of EMUU and SSD’s proposal and made no findings to support their decision. Members of the State Board had not even reviewed our proposal when they voted to reject it. Instead, the State Board adopted a dismissive attitude towards any alternative proposals offered by local communities, in direct violation of the Legislature’s instructions in Act 46 and Act 49. It is incredibly disappointing to see the State Board of Education put politics ahead of our children’s best interests.”
The lawsuit also challenges the State Board’s authority to force a merger without action by the general assembly, an unconstitutional delegation of legislative authority under the Vermont constitution.
Act 46 lays out several goals: to provide equity, opportunity, efficiency, transparency and accountability and sets forth two models to meet these goals. One model is the “preferred education governance structure,” with merger under a single governance structure and the other is an “alternative governance structure,” (“AGS”) which permits continuation of existing governance structures. The Act states that the preferred governance structure “may not be possible or the best model to achieve Vermont’s education goals in all regions of the state.” The Act provides that the State Board of Education can mandate a merger where “necessary” to meet the goals of Act 46 but should approve an alternative governance structure where it is the “best means” to meet the goals of the Act.
After years of study and engagement with the communities, the Boards of Elmore-Morristown and Stowe determined that the “best means” of meeting the goals of Act 46 was for the school districts to remain separate.
“We are already meeting the goals of Act 46 and a merger would be counterproductive. Merging these two districts would disrupt existing collaboration initiatives, shift financial burdens from Stowe to Elmore and Morristown and raise taxes for Elmore-Morristown residents,” said Superintendent of Lamoille South Supervisory Union Tracy Wrend. “The Secretary of Education agreed with our conclusion and recommended that the districts of EMUU and SSD remain separate.”
The State Board of Education voted 5 to 4 to disregard the Secretary’s recommendation and reject the Alternative Governance Structure submitted by EMUU and SSD, without undertaking the analysis Act 46 required – it failed to consider either whether merger was “necessary” to meet the goals of the Act or the “best means” of meeting the goals. In fact, the State Board completely disregarded the proposal. Indeed, two members of the State Board publicly pointed out the serious flaws in the Board process. John Carroll characterized the Board’s attitude as “dismissive” towards alternative governance structures and Bill Mathis stated that the Board failed to consider alternative governance structures “fairly and openly.” Furthermore, the State Board made no findings in support of its flawed decision.
“The State Board’s process for consideration of the proposal submitted by Elmore-Morristown and Stowe was arbitrary and capricious, in violation of due process, and against the intent of the law,” said David Bickford. “The decision made by the Board to ignore the recommendations of the local communities and the Secretary of Education and force the two communities to merge is not only unlawful but harmful to our children, our democracy and our taxpayers.”