WESTMINSTER, Vt. — School district officials are not sure if the state-ordered merger of Westminster, Athens and Grafton school districts will be delayed in the event a bill passed the Senate Wednesday becomes law.
As part of Act 46, the Agency of Education is demanding that all mergers, included ones that are contested, take place by the beginning of the fiscal year on July 1.
The three Windham County districts were among those that sought a court injunction to stop their forced merger as required by the state Agency of Education. However, Superior Court Judge Robert Mello declined to issue the injunction. Meanwhile, some state legislators crafted an alternative path in a House bill that split the mergers into two classes: those that had to still meet the July 1 deadline, and others given a year’s grace period. This passed the House after another bill with a broader delay in implementation failed.
The Vermont Senate has now passed its own bill 26 – 3, with the same overall idea but different provisions. That must be reconciled with the House bill.
“The House was a lot less generous in terms of delay, so what things look like coming out of the Senate might not be where we end up,” cautioned David Clark, chair of the existing Windham Northeast Supervisory Union.
Still, Clark told the Eagle Times he had heard that state Sen. Philip Baruth believes “if we form a merged board, then we don't have to implement until July 1, 2020.”
The state is not waiting, however. After delays to allow for the litigation, the Agency of Education has ordered the new union district to hold an organizational meeting on April 10, and that meeting is scheduled.
Meanwhile, the three so-called “forming districts” went ahead with their individual school budgets on town meeting day. Westminster passed a budget of $4.89 million. The warrant article estimated spending of $17,887.81 per equalized pupil, which is 5.7 percent higher than the current year. However, WNESU Superintendent Chris Pratt warned voters of all member districts at the last minute not to take the figures literally, because new aid numbers had just suddenly arrived from the state, which could alter local calculations.