Board submits letter urging study completion
by Lauren Harkawik
Nov 26, 2017 | 2046 views | 0 0 comments | 56 56 recommendations | email to a friend | print
DOVER - On Monday night, the Dover School board unanimously signed a letter to Secretary of Education Rebecca Holcombe urging commencement and completion of a pending weighting study that the agency of education has taken no action on. At the same meeting, the board discussed a letter from Gov. Phil Scott in which Scott asks schools with declining enrollment to consider consolidating grades or schools in order to manage per-pupil costs.

The weighting study was mandated through Act 49, which was signed into law by Scott on May 23. The study is intended to analyze the factors used in determining the number of equalized pupils and average daily membership at a school. Through the weighting system, several criteria affect equalized per-pupil funding. Dover School Board Vice Chair and state representative Laura Sibilia has been pushing for a rural weight to be included in those factors, noting at several public meetings in the past year that it should cost more to educate students in a low-population small school than at a larger school where economies of scale are possible.

It was reported in early November that Holcombe said the agency of education had yet to initiate the weighting study and likely would not within the designated timeline. Sibilia, along with Rep. John Gannon and Rep. Ben Jickling, sent a letter to Holcombe last week seeking clarification on when the study would happen and threatening legal action should it not occur.

In its letter this week, the Dover School Board wrote, “The weighting study is essential in furthering the very purpose of Act 49, ‘to revitalize Vermont’s small schools - to promote equity in their offerings and stability in their finances through those changes in governance.’ … The failure to conduct this valuable study results in a lost opportunity to improve the quality of education offered within our schools. Ultimately, this results in lost opportunities for young Vermonters.”

The board also discussed a letter from Scott, dated November 14, in which Scott implores educators to consider bold and innovative solutions to the deficit the education fund faces. In the letter, which does not mention the weighting study, Scott notes Vermont’s declining student numbers and says Vermont’s per-pupil education costs have, on average, risen faster than health care costs over the past 10 years, and that fiscal year 2019 projections show a deficit in the statewide education fund that, unaddressed, could result in an increase of $80 million in property taxes statewide.

“The root of the problem is an education infrastructure built and staffed to educate well over 120,000 students, despite having only 80,000 today,” writes Scott. “Every dollar we spend on underutilized space, or on staff-to-student relations that are unacceptably low, is a dollar not being spent on a child.”

Scott goes on to say that as Act 46, the school governance consolidation law, enters its final phase this summer, “We must now make structural changes to complement what many of you have already accomplished.” Later, when addressing innovative approaches to lowering costs that educators should be considering, he says, “I acknowledge that one size does not fit all, but if your student count is declining, districts should do everything possible - including consolidation of grades and schools - to lower per-pupil expenditures.”

Other concepts for consideration outlined include state and local incentives to help manage staff attrition and achieve “favorable ratios” and capital incentives for consolidating schools.

Throughout the letter, Scott invites feedback and ideas. Though the Dover School Board did not comment on the letter extensively, Sibilia urged anyone who has ideas or feedback to send letters to the governor, and noted that she hopes to be invited to a December education summit referenced in the letter, which will include legislators, representatives from several education-based associations, and representatives from independent schools, pre-K, and state colleges and universities. Per the letter, invitations to the summit should go out this week.
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