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.

A Please Complete Act 46 Survey ASAP sign outside of Putney Central School
Howard Weiss-Tisman / VPR

Over the last few weeks, five towns in Vermont have held special elections to determine whether or not they want to leave their recently merged school districts.

A school building
Howard Weiss-Tisman / VPR File

For the first time, two towns that merged their school districts under Act 46 have broken up. The State Board of Education this week allowed the southern Vermont towns of Halifax and Readsboro to go their separate ways just a few years after they merged their schools.

The exterior of the Halifax Elementary School with snow on the ground.
Howard Weiss-Tisman / VPR

Less than two years after Halifax and Readsboro approved an Act 46 merger, the two towns have scheduled public votes to dissolve the district. These are the first Vermont towns that are looking to dissolve an Act 46 merger through townwide votes.

A sign outside Harwood Union Middle and High School that says Welcome Back, Have a great Year.
Anna Van Dine / VPR

Last week, kids zipped up their backpacks, got on buses and headed back to school. For many school districts around the state, it's time to start thinking again about ongoing school district mergers under Act 46. For some districts, consolidation is underway and will likely result in a school closure in the coming years.

The brick exterior of Woodstock Union High School and Middle School, with a green sign out front.
Howard Weiss-Tisman / VPR File

Vermont put a moratorium on school building construction aid in 2007, but now some people want to change course.

Howard Weiss-Tisman / VPR

It’s been nothing but bad news for the school districts that were fighting forced mergers under the state’s controversial law, Act 46.

A school bus.
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.

A view inside the Vermont statehouse.
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.

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