There were two Act 46 merger proposals on Tuesday’s ballots, and voters overwhelmingly rejected both of them.
Over the past few months the State Board of Education has made decisions about nearly every school district that didn't merge voluntarily, but they were holding out on weighing in on the Barre and Orleans Central mergers.
That’s because there were votes pending, and the board didn’t want to get in the way of the democratic process. State Board of Education Chair Krista Huling said the board will now have to address the mergers regardless of the votes against the proposals.
"You know the board understands the passionate concerns that are being expressed, especially at the ballot box, especially yesterday," Huling said. "And the way the Legislature wrote the law, they did not say that a 'no' vote means 'no go.'"
In the Orleans Central Supervisory Union, six of the seven towns said they didn’t want to merge — Albany, Barton, Brownington, Glover, Irasburg and Orleans voted down the plan, while only Westmore supported it.
And in the other vote on Tuesday, Barre Town rejected a merger proposal while Barre City approved it.
For every other merger decision, the State Board of Education has been able to refer to recommendations made by the then-acting secretary of education back in June. But the secretary didn't address either of these two mergers because of the pending votes.
And so, Huling said, when the board next meets they’ll have to have make a decision without benefit of a recommendation from the Agency of Education.
“I think it sets a unique challenge where the [previously acting] secretary has not weighed in,” she said. “And I’m not sure where the current secretary will weigh in on that and advise the board.”
Eddie Rousse, of Barre City, is a member of the Act 46 Merger study committee. He said if the voters had approved the merger plan, the school district would have had many more options.
Now, he said, it’s up to the State Board of Education to make a decision.
“You know they were giving us one last chance to voluntarily merge, and it’s just unfortunate that we didn’t voluntarily merge,” Rousse said. “And then I think when people realize what’s going to happen they’re probably going to say, 'I wish I’d known that before I voted no.'"
The State Board of Education is scheduled to meet on Nov. 15 and the statewide plan has to be finalized before Nov. 30.