Act 46

Need a brief refresher on Act 46?

Friday's report is just the latest development in this school district consolidation process, which kicked off when then-Gov. Peter Shumlin signed Act 46 in June 2015. The law was supposed to “encourage and support local decisions and actions” around school district mergers. 

Read Act 46 as enacted here.

Back at that time, independent school boards — which generally came from single towns — oversaw their local schools. Under the new law, the preferred model was a single board, made up of representatives from a number of nearby towns, that governed all of the schools in the newly consolidated district.

Act 46 was rolled out in phases. School districts that voluntarily merged during the first two phases received financial incentives.

The long and winding road for Act 46 is nearing its final deadline. But questions and court decisions are still in play that could change the final outcomes.
ErikaMitchell / iStock

Four years after it was signed, the Act 46 school district consolidation law is nearing its final deadline on July 1. But there are court cases, refusals by school districts to merge and many questions swirling around the remaining mergers. We get updates and answers on these issues.

An empty classroom with desks and a chalkboard.
maroke / iStock

In a partial ruling Friday in a lawsuit that challenges the constitutionality of forced school district mergers, Franklin County Judge Robert Mello has dismissed several complaints lodged by the more than 30 school districts that filed the suit.

Voters from Brattleboro, Putney, Dummerston and Guilford met in the Brattleboro Union High School gym recently to form the newly merged school district. All of the towns voted down a merger plan but are now consolidating to meet Act 46 deadline.
Howard Weiss-Tisman / VPR

Time is running out for school districts that are fighting their Act 46 forced mergers, and school boards are reluctantly putting the pieces in place to have their new districts operational before July 1.

Vermont Education Secretary Dan French, left, and State Board of Education chairwoman Krista Huling consult a merger map during a State Board meeting Wednesday.
Howard Weiss-Tisman / VPR File

The Vermont Agency of Education is stepping up its pressure on school districts that are fighting their Act 46 forced mergers.

Secretary of Education Dan French sent out a memo Friday saying if districts don’t move forward with the forced mergers, the state "will take every action legally available to bring the district into compliance."

Voters from the Windham Southeast Unified Union School District stand to be counted at a meeting in Brattleboro. Many towns did not vote on a school budget this Town Meeting Day.
Howard Weiss-Tisman / VPR

More than 30 Vermont school districts filed a lawsuit challenging the forced mergers the state has ordered them to make. Before voting on school budgets on Town Meeting Day, the districts involved in the lawsuit asked for a temporary injunction to allow merger proceedings to halt until the suit is resolved. But just one day before Town Meetings, a judge denied that request. 

People sit in chairs at Jamaica Town Meeting and look up to a group of people sitting at a table at a stage in the front of the room.
Howard Weiss-Tisman / VPR

There’s been a lot of focus on the school districts that are fighting forced mergers, and what they would do about passing a budget this year.

But even in the districts that have successfully merged, Act 46 churned up some strong emotions on Town Meeting Day.

John Dillon / VPR

School meetings in several central Vermont communities were overshadowed by legal and financial questions raised by challenges to forced mergers under the Act 46 law.

State Board of Education Chair Krista Huling looks over a school district map during a meeting to review Act 46 mergers. A judge has denied a request from more than 30 school districts to temporarily halt the Act 46 merger process.
Howard Weiss-Tisman / VPR file

  

A Franklin County judge has dealt a setback to the dozens of Vermont school districts contesting an order that could force them into involuntarily mergers as early as this July.

Voters from the Windham Southeast Unified Union School District stand to be counted at a meeting in Brattleboro. Many towns did not vote on a school budget this Town Meeting Day.
Howard Weiss-Tisman / VPR

Town Meeting Day is the time when school budgets are debated and voted on.

But the resistance across Vermont to the forced mergers brought on by Act 46 means many votes will not take place in early March.

Students seated in the gym of Jamaica Elementary School.
Howard Weiss-Tisman / VPR

Debates about school district consolidations elicit strong feelings, on every side of the issue.

Opponents of Act 46 say it is destroying small communities. Supporters say it’s the only way to address declining enrollment and cut costs.

But for smaller schools in newly merged districts, the reality is often more nuanced.

Eden Town Clerk Candy Vear, left, and Waterville Town Clerk Nancy LaRose, right, count ballots in the Lamoille Union High School library.
Amy Kolb Noyes / VPR

An Act 46 vote held in a half-dozen Lamoille County towns Tuesday could spell the defeat of a state-ordered school district merger.

Testimony is heard on the House floor.
Toby Talbot / AP

This week House lawmakers gave an extension to some—but not all—school districts that have yet to merge under Act 46, giving some districts as much as an additional year to comply with the state's school district merger mandate.

House lawmakers approved an amendment Thursday that would give some school districts an extra year to comply with a district consolidation mandate.
Peter Hirschfeld / VPR file

House lawmakers have decided that some Vermont school districts need more time to comply with a merger mandate, but they’ve left a fast-approaching deadline in place for others.

An aerial shot of the House floor on the opening day of the Vermont Legislature in 2019.
Oliver Parini / For VPR

House lawmakers appear poised to grant a yearlong reprieve to about half of the Vermont school districts that face a fast-approaching deadline for complying with a controversial school governance mandate.

Stowe is one of about 30 school districts in Vermont challenging a state law that requires them to merge with other districts. House lawmakers will vote next week on whether to delay that merger mandate, to give the court case time to resolve.
Ian Noyes / VPR file

The Vermont House of Representatives will vote next week on postponing implementation of a controversial school governance law.

Lawmakers such as Putney Rep. Michael Mrowicki, at the podium, are pushing for legislation that would give school districts more time to comply with a law that requires many districts to merge. About 30 districts are challenging the merger law in court.
Peter Hirschfeld / VPR

A tri-partisan group of lawmakers want to postpone a legal deadline that will otherwise force Vermont school districts into involuntary mergers by July 1.

State Board of Education Chair Krista Huling looks over a school district map during a meeting to review Act 46 mergers. A judge has denied a request from more than 30 school districts to temporarily halt the Act 46 merger process.
Howard Weiss-Tisman / VPR file

The Agency of Education is recommending that school districts abide by the deadlines spelled out in Act 46, Vermont’s school district consolidation law, even though a court case challenging the law has been delayed.

A group of people around tables at a State Board of Education meeting.
Howard Weiss-Tisman / VPR

Many involuntary mergers under Act 46 are on hold — for now. This comes after lawyers on both sides of the legal issue agreed there needs to be additional time to brief what they deem to be difficult and complex issues.

In this file photo, Dummerston School Board Chairwoman Kristina Naylor talks about the school's alternative governance plan in opposition to merging with a nearby district. Naylor stands in front of a poster hanging up and points to it.
Howard Weiss-Tisman / VPR File

A group of school districts filed a legal appeal Thursday challenging Act 46, the state’s school district consolidation law.

The exterior of Stowe Middle and High School on a cloudy day.
Amy Kolb Noyes / VPR

The first lawsuit challenging the state’s authority to merge school districts under Act 46 has been filed: The Elmore-Morristown Unified Union School District and the Stowe School District filed a suit Thursday against the State Board of Education.

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