Holland’s school vote shows Vermonters’ undying quest for local control

By Michael Miley

In a effort to stop the consolidation of their local elementary school mandated by the state under Act 46, residents of Holland on Sept. 11 voted 57-21 to close the school at the year’s end. Despite comments by the Agency of Education, which suggested that closing the school would not do anything to arrest the mergers, residents and town leaders saw the vote as the only means of maintaining local control over the town’s school board and real estate. North Country Supervisory Union Superintendent John Castle did not rule out legal action against the state, calling the Agency’s comments “an attempt to diminish our dignity,” VTDigger reported.

Holland’s school woes — namely declining enrollment — existed before the passage and implementation of Act 46. But while Holland taxpayers may save money by instituting a tuition agreement with Derby, Holland residents made the decision to close their school rather than be forced to merge with their larger neighbor and become a minority member of a new combined district. By law, the state government cannot force a merger between two districts with different operational structures, and the tactic employed by Holland is being explored by other towns in the state as well. But it’s efficacy has been called into question by the state government, which released a statement earlier this month saying that closing schools would only prevent mergers if the closures occurred before the state releases its final Act 46 plan, which is expected sometime next month. This creates another difficult situation for towns that were seeking to close their schools after the end of the current school year.

Holland residents voted to close their school in part to protest what they perceive to be the state’s overreach into local affairs, as well as to preserve their community. Holland has no post office or town hall, and the elementary school functions as their de facto community center. Consolidation or merging under Act 46 would most likely result in the border town losing ownership of the physical school property, and thus the heart of the community. Even if the state argues otherwise, most community members believe that the newly-consolidated school districts would go about closing smaller schools anyway in a bid to save money — and perhaps stave off any future consolidation plans the state government might enact.

The town of Franklin is exploring legal options to stop or delay the state’s consolidation plans there. Additionally, last week the Alliance of Vermont School Board Members sent notice to the State Board of Education that they will sue if the state forces districts to merge. Another advocacy group, Vermonters for Schools and Community, has also threatened to file suit, claiming that the state has not given due consideration to good faith alternative proposals brought forth by various communities.

The potential lawsuit from the Alliance of Vermont School Board Members would claim that the state is violating the town’s Fifth Amendment rights by reassigning ownership of town properties and liability of town debt without due process or compensation. Article I, Section 2 of the Vermont Constitution contains a similar provision — known as the “takings” clause — but the Vermont Supreme Court generally looks to the federal courts when determining precedent.

State Board of Education Chair Krista Huling remains intractable, stating that lawsuits, or the threat of lawsuits will influence the board’s decisions. Huling is on record as saying the decisions being made by the towns and advocacy groups in opposition to the implementation of Act 46 are being made out of “fear” and are ignorant of what she calls “long-term consequences.” Huling believes that while small towns that submit to the consolidation process and join the new school boards would be a minority voice, they would still have some say in education decisions. This is opposed to towns that tuition their students, which have little to no say in the educational decisions of where their students are sent.

Michael Miley is a guest writer and columnist for True North Reports. He lives in West Burke, Vermont.

Image courtesy of Essex Westford School District
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6 thoughts on “Holland’s school vote shows Vermonters’ undying quest for local control

  1. Got to love all this: since 1960 Vermont dems have been trying to connect the entire educational system to state control. It was ok until after the mid 1990s, when the roof was falling in since the state lost a critical # of residents. They sold everything out from local control continually since 1960. Now they want to connect us back to “local” control! Isn’t that going to involve going all the way back to 1960….?…!

  2. Meanwhile, Vermont homeschoolers don’t bat an eyelash at all this bureaucratic nonsense. They continue giving their children a far superior education compared to the stifling political correctness, behavior modification and attitudinal adjustment doled out in the public school system. Vermont homeschoolers experience uninterrupted, leisurely years of family oriented learning in a one-room schoolhouse atmosphere where all ages participate at the same time and are guided by loving adults. The state can pass all the laws it wants but until the constitution is changed, homeschoolers are free to continue in their quest to educate their children as they see fit.

  3. The point to Holland’s decision, not mentioned here, is that the Holland district will save money closing their school, reopening it independently, and tuitioning their students to the reopened school the same way they would tuition students to Derby. All school districts with similar points of view must understand their options fully in this regard.

    None the less, the AoE and State Board juggernaut is virtually unstoppable without a change in the VT Legislature. And because the VT Legislature is a creature controlled by a majority consisting of the monopoly’s special interest groups and those who don’t care one way or the other, there is little chance the Legislature will change. What the minority can do about this tyranny, I do not know.

    • Without a governor and secretary of the AOE who have the courage to not enforce such destructive legislation to small communities these communities don’t have much of a chance but to follow in Holland’s footsteps.

      The governor said in our VPR debate that he didn’t like Act 46 but something needed to be done. So it is better to have a very destructive plan in place than doing nothing in his mind. Sounds like S55 and the individual mandate legislation he signed as well.

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