Superintendent of Schools for Franklin Northeast Supervisory Union, Lynn Cota, sits in the front row while moderator Patrick Hayes, right, explains the rules for the meeting.

By Gregory J. Lamoureux
County Courier

RICHFORD: About three dozen voters from two communities gathered this evening to discuss the details of a merger, forced upon the Enosburg and Richford school districts by the Vermont Board of Education. That quickly turned into another forum, a hurdle to the forced merger.

Former Enosburg School Board member Suzie Hull-Casavant made a motion to the moderator immediately when the meeting began- That motion, to suspend the remainder of the meeting until the lawsuit on the constitutionality of Act 46 has been decided.

Patrick Hayes, the moderator initially tapped to run the meeting, rejected Hull-Parent’s motion but did not justify the reason why. A second motion to overturn Hayes’ ruling was made, and a two-thirds vote was deemed to be needed to overturn the rejection of Hull-Casavant’s motion.

Commonly in Robert’s Rules of Order, which had yet to be adopted in the meeting, a motion can, in fact, be rejected by the moderator, but a motion to reconsider must be taken if requested, and that sustain with a majority vote.

Either way, the meeting in Richford continued, ultimately with the voters deciding to overturn Hayes’ ruling, with a one vote margin above the two-thirds thought required.

The discussion quickly ensued on the topic of suspending the meeting until the court ruling could be decided, including one woman who said she was concerned that teacher negotiations would suffer as a result of a board not being able to be formed.

“My concern is that we are already in a position that getting qualified teachers can be challenging,” the woman said, “and if we don’t get contracts out to these teachers, we run the risk of losing some really good people who may be concerned about some ambiguity in the community.”

Joanne Danyow, a Richford resident said her concern was showing that she was not in support of a merger, “If we go ahead with this (meeting), it’s saying that we are okay with (the merger), and we are not okay with (the merger).”

Superintendent Lynn Cota, a resident and voter of Enosburgh, explained her view on the matter, “We’re at a place in this process where our communities are at the order of the state board. So the purpose of tonight’s meeting is not really whether or not we should merge… the purpose is, if nothing happens in the legislature or in the lawsuit, how we are going to move forward.”

Cota went on to say that she knows the sentiment may be to resist the change to a merger, but that the community has to do what is best for the kids.

A voter called the question, which initially began the conversation moving on to a vote on the matter, but then Enosburg School Board member, Rick Bartholomew wanted to speak, so without any approval from the voters, Hayes turned the microphone over to him to give his two cents.

Bartholomew said he was concerned that there would not be enough time to warn a school budget for Enosburg and another one for Richford if they didn’t go through with the meeting.

“We are in the middle of teacher contract negotiations right now, and it’s a little disconcerting when you have no clear view of the direction you may be heading,” he added.

Linda Collins, a Richford voter and Chair of the Richford Selectboard, asked if it would be possible to level fund a budget at Town Meeting day.

Bartholomew said he didn’t think they would even have the authority to do that.

Initially, the rules were stated that if there was a person who wanted to speak that wasn’t a registered voter of Enosubrgh or Richford, the approval of the voters would have to be granted by a two-thirds margin.

That didn’t keep Montgomery’s Sarah Silva, who is a resident of Montgomery, from piping up to add, “We have put together a budget in Montgomery that will be voted on at Town Meeting.”

That followed a point of order, stating that the question had been called, and the discussion had continued, so Hayes moved to ask for a hand vote on Hull-Casavant’s initial motion to suspend any further discussion until the court ruling on Act 46 had been decided.

Voters elected to approve Hull-Casavant’s motion by a 2:1 margin, suspending the meeting until a court ruling had been published.

Wednesday evening the voters from Franklin, Highgate, and Swanton will also gather to discuss their merger plans. That meeting will take place at the Missisquoi Valley Union High School Auditorium at 7 pm.