Home News and Features Roxbury Lawsuit Dismissed; April 30 School Budget Vote Will Continue

Roxbury Lawsuit Dismissed; April 30 School Budget Vote Will Continue

Photo by John Lazenby.
The Washington County Court has dismissed the April 16 lawsuit filed by the Town of Roxbury and two parents against the Montpelier Roxbury Public Schools (MRPS) Board after an expedited hearing on April 23. The plaintiffs claimed the board failed to properly hold a public informational hearing preceding the district’s March 5 school budget vote.

A budget informational meeting was held at 8:30 a.m. on March 5, after in-person voting began at 7 a.m., which the plaintiffs argued did not fall within the required 10 days preceding the vote. The plaintiffs requested the court to order a cancellation of the upcoming April 30 vote on the second warned budget and have the district revote on the first warned budget from March 5.

Following the defeat of the March 5 school budget, which included a 24% tax rate increase for Montpelier voters (172 “yes” votes to 139 “no” votes in Roxbury, failing 1,214-1,507 in Montpelier) the MRPS board crafted a new budget for the April 30 revote, which included the closure of the Roxbury Village School (RVS) and busing the roughly 40 students to Union Elementary School in Montpelier, 20 miles away.

The court found “any defect in a notice concerning an informational meeting can be cured by the legislative body, as the School District did with its April 22 validation vote,” where the board unanimously voted the procedural defect was a result of “oversight,” not intentional manipulation.

“The Defendant’s motion to dismiss is granted, and the motion for emergency injunctive relief is denied,” according to court documents signed by Judge Timothy Tomasi.

The budget revote will still be held on April 30. Absentee and mailed ballots had been available for both Montpelier and Roxbury voters before the lawsuit.

Legal Defense

Attorney Miles Stafford, on behalf of the Roxbury plaintiffs, argued the vote was a complex issue. He asserted that many voters were probably “misinformed,” and lack of a proper informational meeting contributed to the budget being defeated.

Following the legal precedent of Putter v. Montpelier School District, improper procedures must be “expressible in terms of votes cast; and Plaintiffs have not alleged or come forward with actual evidence that the notice, timing, or conduct of the informational hearing had any significant effect on the March 5 vote.”

Also, because the court considers the municipal budget vote as a public question, the plaintiffs did not contest the election within the required 15 days after the March 5 vote.

Judge Tomasi questioned causality behind the plaintiff’s request to cancel the upcoming April 30 vote and revert to a vote on the March 5 budget, along with the legal basis for the court to grant this request. 

“The March 5 vote was not a vote on whether to close the school. The Board came to that decision as a policy matter thereafter,” according to court documents.

To legally grant this request, the court would have had to find “threat of irreparable harm.” While the harm that closing RVS was acknowledged, the procedurally more relevant harm on the March 5 electoral process was not found.

Attorney Pietro J. Lynn on behalf of the MRPS Board argued that a judge deciding on a budget vote, rather than the district’s voters, would be “flipping the will of the people” and that the “appropriate democratic response is to rally the community” to vote down the second budget on April 30. 

Acknowledging Harm

“No doubt, the loss of the school is an irreparable harm. It is not likely, however, that invalidating the March 5 vote would have any chance of averting that consequence,” according to court documents.

Attorney Lynn noted it is a “political reality of Vermont” that small schools are under pressure. Fiscal year 2025’s budget cycle has been impacted by Act 127’s funding formula changes, which contributed to the original spike in tax rates along with health insurance costs rising statewide.

School board members and public speakers at board meetings have voiced concern for a growing “us versus them” mindset between Montpelier and Roxbury residents, whose districts merged in 2017 following Act 46. 

“Reopening the school, if closed, would be very hard,” said attorney Stafford. “The kids are really going to miss out.”