Several Connecticut courts recently have struggled with the question of when a referendum is required in order to modify a regional school plan. The text of Conn. Gen. Stat. § 10-47c provides that the voters in each member town served by a regional school district must approve amendments to the regional school plan. However, this law does not specify what constitutes an “amendment” to the plan. The case of Pratt v. Board of Education of Regional School District 14 arose when the Region 14 Board of Education (the “Board”) made a change to its regional school plan without going through the referendum process to obtain voter approval. Until 2007, the Board, which serves both Woodbury and Bethlehem, had separate elementary schools for each town. In an effort to relieve overcrowding in the Woodbury elementary school, the Board elected to place all students in Kindergarten through second grade in the Bethlehem school, while all students in grades three through five would attend the Woodbury elementary school. The Board was of the opinion that the grade reconfiguration was not a change that required voter approval pursuant to Conn. Gen. Stat. § 10-47c. The plaintiffs in Pratt disagreed, claiming that the Board had in fact changed its regional school plan, and that a referendum consequently was required pursuant to Conn. Gen. Stat. § 10-47c.
In July 2009, a Connecticut trial court ruled for the defendant Board, finding that the proposal to reconfigure the school was not a “fundamental amendment” and that a referendum was therefore not required. Thereafter, the Connecticut Supreme Court issued a ruling that established that § 10-47c provides that any non-incidental modification in a regional school plan constitutes an amendment necessitating referenda in each member town. Following the Supreme Court’s ruling, the trial court in Pratt reversed its prior ruling and held that in reconfiguring the two elementary schools, the Board had in fact made a non-incidental amendment to its regional plan, which required that the Board follow amendment procedures pursuant to Conn. Gen. Stat. § 10-47c. Accordingly, the court ruled, the Board was required to reinstate elementary schools in both Bethlehem and Woodbury that teach children in Kindergarten through fifth grade.