Under state law, towns with school choice must pay up to the state average tuition ($13,078 for fiscal year 2014) for students attending state-approved independent schools. But under the same law, the district can vote to increase the amount. Last year, voters approved a measure to pay a higher amount for Dover students attending Burr and Burton Academy. Under Article 3 at Tuesday’s meeting, voters agreed to pay the higher amount for another year, up to $14,875 for students attending Burr and Burton Academy.
But Article 4, a similar measure to pay up to $14,875 for other students attending independent schools, came under more scrutiny from voters. Mary Lou Raymo said she petitioned the article “to be fair to all the other kids that go to independent schools, who only get the statewide average.” Raymo’s grandson is one of three other Dover students who attend an independent school other than Burr and Burton.
Cindy Hassig, parent of a student attending Burr and Burton Academy, noted that Dover parents of Burr and Burton students organized to cut a deal for lower tuition before asking the town for an increase in tuition. She suggested that parents of students at other independent schools should be required to do the same. “If we do this, we should apply to other schools,” she said. “To blanket say any other independent school isn’t doing justice to what we did at Burr and Burton.”
Randy Capitani, a parent of a student attending one of the other independent schools, said he saw the issue as one of fairness. “If you voted for Article 3, then you have to vote for Article 4, it’s only fair. If you vote this down, you’re limiting school choice in Dover. You’re saying you can go to Burr and Burton, but if you go to any other school, you have to pay $1,800 more.”
Meridith Anton agreed with Capitani. “As a parent of one of those three students who has been paying the extra amount, if we’re willing to raise money for students to go to Burr and Burton, then we should give equitable access to other schools.”
Michael Fayette, parent of a Burr and Burton student, said all students should have the same opportunity. “Last year we only specified Burr and Burton because that’s where our students were going,” he said. “If this passes, I think that’s our goal. I hope that, instead of bickering, we can just get the kids going where they want to go.”
Board member Laura Sibilia said she was “outspoken” regarding last year’s vote to increase the payment for Burr and Burton students, but said that her issue was “what it does to our taxes and budgets. When we elect to pay more for tuition, the only place we can cut, if we want to cut, is at Dover School.” But she said that, since voters “overwhelmingly” supported the Burr and Burton tuition increase, she agreed there was an issue of fairness. The article passed with a chorus of “ayes,” but there were a few “nos” from dissenting voters.
Voters also approved Article 6, authorizing the board to put any surplus funds into their capital reserve fund, and Article 7, authorizing a transfer of $10,500 from the reserve fund to the capital vehicle fund.
Voters passed Article 8, the proposed school budget, with little discussion. Werner amended the overall budget figure by $16,805 to account for the increase in tuition to independent schools voted under Article 4. The total amended budget figure was $2,826,423 but, because Dover’s budget increased above a certain threshold, it was subject to a state law requiring that the budget be presented in two parts. “When Jim Douglas was governor, he said that school budgets were too high and it was school boards’ fault. So when we have an increase that’s over a certain percentage we have to have our budget passed in two parts,” he said.
Werner said the resulting tax rate would be about $1.59 on homestead property, an increase of 19 to 20 cents. But, under Article 9, voters authorized the board to move money from the capital reserve fund to the fiscal year 2014 budget to reduce the tax rate. Werner asked voters if they’d like to specify a recommended amount to move from the fund to the budget, or if they’d prefer to set a target tax rate to guide the board as they decide how much to move. Voters suggested moving $200,000 to $250,000 with a goal of reducing the projected tax rate by 8 to 10 cents.