EAST MONTPELIER — Barring some new development, the once-delayed organizational meeting for the Washington Central Unified Union School District will be held next Tuesday at U-32 Middle and High School.
At least that’s the plan, and at this point in the Act 46 program the only thing that might alter it is a swiftly issued injunction.
With Judge Robert Mello expected to entertain a disputed request for just such judicial relief Friday afternoon, an injunction isn’t out of the question.
Mello plans to spend Friday afternoon in his St. Albans courtroom catching up on three separate court cases challenging the forced phase of the state’s school district consolidation law. Arguments for and against the requested injunction are expected to be part of that proceeding.
It is unclear whether an injunction could theoretically block rescheduled organizational meetings like the one set for 6 p.m. Tuesday in the U-32 auditorium.
Washington Central Superintendent Bill Kimball hasn’t ruled it out, but he isn’t banking on it, either.
Until Kimball is told otherwise, he said the organizational meeting is on, the transitional board contemplated in Act 46 will be sworn in, and some threshold decisions will be made by voters who attend a session designed for that purpose.
“Right now, nothing’s changed,” Kimball said, noting that technically the five-town, six-school supervisory union is still under order to merge into one pre-K-12 district by July 1.
“That’s the law,” he said.
House lawmakers recently passed a bill that would give some districts subject to state-ordered mergers — including those in Washington Central — an extra year to prepare. The Senate Education Committee hasn’t yet scheduled a discussion of that bill and even those who support it fear there aren’t enough votes in the Senate to actually pass it.
Even if there are, the bill that passed the House includes a July 1 deadline that districts granted the contemplated extension would have to meet if they want to make changes to default articles of agreement proposed by the state.
According to the bill, those amendments would have to be approved by voters by July 1. The statutory responsibility for warning a special election for that purpose falls to transitional boards, like the 12-member panel that is scheduled to be sworn in on Tuesday at U-32.
Unless Mello orders otherwise, canceling organizational meetings could create a time crunch in districts, like those in Washington Central, where school board members have expressed interest in proposing articles of agreement that are different than the ones the state would impose.
The organizational meetings themselves represent an opportunity for voters to decide how the merged district will conduct its business. That includes whether to use the daylong voting system commonly referred to as the Australian ballot to elect school board members and approve budgets.
Those and other decisions will be made by only those voters who attend the organizational meetings. Tuesday’s meeting will be open to all registered voters in Berlin, Calais, East Montpelier, Middlesex and Worcester. School districts in four of those five towns — Berlin, Calais, Middlesex and Worcester — are parties to one of the three lawsuits now pending before Mello. Lawyers in that case have requested the injunction.