An open letter to the Stowe community:
As we face the challenges brought by the recent State Board of Education’s Act 46 decision, we are writing to provide a brief summary of our initial public meetings. We will work to keep you as informed and engaged as possible so that we can meet this challenge together.
• What will an Act 46 merger look like?
This is about forced merger of governance. So, the Stowe School Board would no longer have sole control of our town’s educational decisions. If the rest of the Act 46 process goes forward without being stopped by an injunction or stay order, the Stowe and Elmore-Morristown school boards will no longer exist. In their place will be one board, similar to the current Lamoille South Supervisory Union board, with one school budget.
Forced merger of governance does not necessarily mean merger of schools. The draft articles of agreement, conditions of merger given to us by the state, has a clause providing a period of at least two years when schools will not be merged. We will be working with legal counsel to get a clear understanding of whether this term and others in the draft articles are negotiable. We want to negotiate terms that allow both the communities of Stowe and Elmore-Morristown to feel protected.
• How are we going to respond to this decision?
Alternative governance proposal supplement. The decision by the State Board of Education will not be finalized until Nov. 28. The state board’s decision is provisional right now, so we will be submitting a supplemental response to the decision and testifying at the next state board meeting on Nov. 15.
Both Elmore-Morristown and Stowe demonstrated that separately each meets the goals of Act 46. There are other important factors in our proposal that the state board never discussed, so our response will make sure to highlight all important factors that we believe were overlooked.
• Legislative response.
If the state board’s provisional decision is not changed by the end of the month, we will be working with our legislative representatives to determine what options may be available in the General Assembly to amend portions of the law requiring this merger. We understand that any legislative response will take time, so we see this option as being viable only if the court grants a stay order or injunctive relief on an Act 46 lawsuit.
• Legal response.
We heard loud and clear from you that you want us to litigate and fight the state board’s decision, and we are exploring all legal options. As we’ve done with all merger studies in the past, we will work with our partner board to determine what is the best path forward. We believe the strength of any legal action questioning the validity of the state board’s decision will be stronger if it’s brought by both school boards together.
To start this process, we heard from two lawyers who will be filing a joint lawsuit challenging Act 46 on behalf of plaintiffs, some of whom are members of the Alliance of School Board Members. At this point, over 20 school boards and towns have signed on to be part of this lawsuit. We will discuss the viability of this with the Elmore-Morristown board before reaching any decisions.
We also plan to obtain our own legal counsel. Legal fees will be taken out of our school budget, so it’s important for us to do a cost-benefit analysis as we decide to what extent we want to engage in litigation. We do not want to divert money from educational spending unless absolutely necessary.
• What are we going to do about the capital project everyone’s been talking about?
We have had a pressing need for school improvements for quite some time, and we are committed to making sure we have adequate space and facilities for our children. We will continue to work in earnest and will consider whether to move forward with a bond vote in March, as we had anticipated a year ago. We will also look to see if there are any important standalone projects that we can take care of soon by spending our capital fund money.
We are very concerned that our current space is inadequate for our students, and we strongly believe that we must invest in our schools so that our students have the appropriate space to flourish. We do not believe that we can wait much longer.
• Where do we stand on the State Board of Education’s decision?
We are unified in our belief that local control is worth fighting for. We are far from done. At all board meetings for the foreseeable future, we will be exploring all possible options so that we can make the best choices possible for our multipronged approach. We are going to vigorously defend our community’s right to maintain control of our educational decisions, and we hope to have you by our side as we work through this process.
Thank you for your concern, support, and investment in our schools.
The Stowe School Board (Cara Zimmerman, Jim Brochhausen, Tiffany Donza, Lindsey Lamb and Leigh Pelletier)