Windham School Board Fights Back on Act 46 School Merger

Windham Elementary School, Windham, VT

Although most towns across the state have acquiesced — in some cases reluctantly — to accept the forced merger of their schools as mandated under Act 46, the town of Windham did not. The Windham School Board continues to fight the merger of their elementary school into the new West River Education District, which they see as unconstitutional seizure of town property and against the best interests of their students.

On May 11, the Windham School Board took the unusual step of writing to all its neighbors in the new merged district to ask that they vote No on the latest school merger articles up for vote. The other towns in the West River district are Newfane, Townshend, Brookline, and Jamaica — all have agreed to merge their schools and have approved the merged budget.

The articles up for vote on June 11 would “accept” the Windham Elementary School into the West River Education District and increase the district’s budget by $450,000 to pay for it.

Windham, which is currently suing the state over this matter, strongly opposes what they see as the forced merger of their schools. In their law suit, they contend that the merger is an unconstitutional seizure of town property without “an affirmative vote” on the part of Windham residents. They are worried about how their teachers will fare, as all teacher contracts must be renegotiated as soon as a school enters the new district (see Vermont State Statute, P 1802). Underlying their resistance is a fear that once their school is merged, it will be closed due to it’s small size and rural nature.

Here’s what the Windham School Board wrote to residents of neighboring towns:

Dear Neighbors and Friends,

We are writing to humbly ask that when you vote on June 11, 2019, you please vote no on both ballot articles to forcibly merge the Windham School District in the West River Modified Union Education District. We ask this for several reasons that we will outline below.

First, we believe strongly in the fundamentals of democracy and that voting is one of our most precious, basic rights. We ask that you respect Windham’s vote to not merge taken in March of 2017, as well as subsequent strong votes that indicate Windham’s desire to remain autonomous. We take exception to the very language in the first article because it connotes that Windham is asking to be “accepted” into the WRMUED. We are not. Just as we believe that forced marriages are bad practice, we believe the same is true of forced mergers.

Second, we are engaged in a lawsuit that is still in progress. Things are moving along but it is possible, and indeed probably, that this will be appealed to the Vermont Supreme Court. We feel that we have a strong case because the Vermont Constitution does not allow the taking of property without an affirmative vote of the people from whom the property is being taken without fair compensation. The giving of Windham School District property to the WRMUED without an affirmative vote of Windham voters is, in our view, an affront to the Constitution.

Third, the voters of the Town of Windham approved its FY2020 budget at Town Meeting on a strong, unanimous voice vote with no dissent. We have signed contracts with our teachers who are relying on employment at our school next year and they have been told that if this motion passes, their contracts will be null and void. They have more than 30 years of combined service to our school and such as action, in our view, is unconscionable.

We are asking for another year to resolve the lawsuit, honor the contracts with our teachers, and make decisions about the future of our school. We remember that originally the WRMUED promised that there would be no major operational changes made for several years and yet within the first year they voted to move all the sixth graders from the elementary schools to Leland and Gray Union High School. When petitions with 200+ signatures were presented to the WRMUED Board asking for a reconsideration and vote, they were essentially disregarded. We fear the decisions that might be made by this board regarding our small, geographically-isolated school, when we have only one member to represent our position, will have a negative impact on the education of our students.

We feel that forcibly merging us at this time would be premature and that, should we prevail in our lawsuit, extricating Windham would be extremely complicated for all involved, but something that would have to happen. It makes much more sense to let things resolve themselves first and go from there.

We thank you for your kind consideration and once again ask that you vote no on both articles on June 11.


A No vote on the part of residents of towns other than Windham would not change anything for their own towns’ schools but would prevent the state from immediately incorporating the Windham Elementary School into the new merged district. According to Antje Ruppert, Windham School Board member, the wording of the first article sounds harmless — a vote to “accept” Windham in to the new district — but it would in fact use voters from the other towns to force Windham into their district, very much against Windham’s will.

An informational session for Windham voters is scheduled for June 6 at the Leland and Gray High School Library.  There will also be a session at Windham School Monday, June 3 at 7 PM.  Other towns in the district are also holding informational sessions.

The text of the Articles below is from the flyer sent out by the West River Education District.

Warned for Public Vote on June 11, 2019

Article 1. Shall West River Modified Union Education District accept Windham Elementary School as a full member of the West River Modified Union Education District, effective July 1, 2019, per the State Board of Education’s Final Report of Decisions and Order on Statewide School District Merge Decisions (Pursuant to Act 26*, Section s 8(b) and 10) dated November 28, 2018, and under the terms of the Articles of Agreement certified by the Secretary of the Agency of Education on May 26, 2017.

*Editor’s note: they mean Act 46

Article 2. Only in the event Article 1 is approved, shall the voters of West River Modified Union Education District #34 amend the voter-approved 2019-2020 school budget of $11,710,082 by adding $450,039, which is the amount necessary for anticipated expenses at the Windham Elementary School for the 2019-2020 school year. It is estimated that this revised budget, if approved, will result in education spending of $20,900.09 per equalized pupil.

Comments | 5

  • Other Towns Voted No, Also

    The opening sentence suggests that many of the Vermont towns that are being forced to merge, at some point voted (“reluctantly”) to merge. But in many cases Towns never did vote yes, tho are being merged, anyway. Immediate case in point are the 4 Towns of the newly merged Windham Southeast School District. All 4 of the Towns voting were given one chance to vote on merger, in November 2017. All 4 — Brattleboro, Dummerston, Guilford & Putney — voted overwhelmingly not to accept the merger. That was the only vote ever taken by townspeople. The State (Agency of Ed & Board of Ed) ultimately merged these 4 Towns, anyway.

    BTW in the Letter is a reference to a vote by the “Town of Wilmington” — should that have read “Town of Windham”?

    Also BTW, interesting that the Warning for the June 11 vote contains an error, which you have editorially footnoted. That probably isn’t enough of a mistake to render the Warning invalid, but if I were a Windham voter I would raise the issue that it might be construed as creating an improper Warning.

    • Acquiesced -- not Voted

      Thanks, Don! Many of us did vote against the merger — but once the merger was forced on us by the state, most towns accepted their fate by electing transitional board members. Right? Isn’t that how it happened? I’ve changed the story above to “acquiesced,” not “voted” to make that clear.

      Also, it’s Windham that’s at issue in this story, not Wilmington. Duly noted and corrected.

      • Thanks for the corrections

        Yes, towns throughout the state have been acquiescing; some, of course had particular situations where a merger made sense. But for those which wanted to retain their own town school boards, and whose citizens voted against merger, it’s been a long process to try to convince the state agencies not to fix something which many of us don’t think was broken.

        Some districts are still in litigation, but the prognosis on the lawsuits so far appears to allow mergers to happen. Windham is still at it. (Article in today’s Reformer.)

        The transitional boards happened sort of automatically, with the existing Chairs & Clerks of each of the WSESU boards (the 4 towns & BUHS) sent to a temporary board that is now dissolved. Two weeks ago the 4 towns voted to send 2 reps each to a new “unified” board, the Windham Southeast School District, and that board has already been meeting, preparing a budget to be voted on by the likely handful of registered voters of the 4 towns on June 25. After that, the town & BUHS boards go out of business and July 1 we’re in a new “unified” district.

        (Vernon the exception, a separate story, but in summary they are currently their own town school district, not part of the new unified.)

        Although many of those of us who opposed the mergers wished the new board hadn’t needed to materialize, we nonetheless made sure people ran for the 8 seats, and the new board is a good group of knowledgeable and committed people.

      • Time to update Civics curriculum

        I wonder if kids today are taught that they should vote, but their vote won’t always matter or count. : )

  • Windham School Board fights back and wins

    Rejected by a 508-166 vote.

    July 16 will be a vote to see if they can leave the Leland & Gray union.

    Seems like there was little motivation for voters to come out and vote for them to be taken over, and a fair amount of motivation to vote to help them stay out. The PR campaign was a good idea, and worked for them.

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