Vermont's Secretary of Education says a town's school board cannot unilaterally withdraw from an Act 46 study committee.
The issue arose in the Windham Southeast Supervisory Union, after the Vernon School Board voted unanimously to pull out of the district consolidation talks following some tense discussions.
Secretary Rebecca Holcombe wrote a letter to the district Act 46 committee saying the Vernon board has "no legal authority to withdraw the Vernon School District, or the District's statutorily appointed members from the Windham Southeast Study Committee."
Act 46 is Vermont's school district consolidation law, and over the past year more than 50 school districts voted to consolidate with nearby districts to form larger, unified, districts.
Those votes represent about 20 percent of the districts in the state.
Holcombe says the Windham Southeast committee can continue working on a merger plan, and can even include Vernon in its proposal, whether the town takes part in the debates, or not.
"A study committee's composition is unaffected by any action of a school board regarding the district's membership and participation," Holcombe wrote. "My hope is that the duly appointed Vernon members will choose to continue to participate in future meetings of the study committee until the work of the committee is completed."
Explore the status of district merger plans and proposals around the state:
Windham Southeast includes the towns of Brattleboro, Vernon, Guilford, Putney and Dummerston.
The district was trying to get a merger plan in place to take advantage of the financial incentives in the accelerated phase, which expires on July 1.
The committee decided recently not to rush the work, and to instead get a plan in the place for the second phase of Act 46, which runs until July 1, 2017.