Dover School jumped through all the hoops but could still face penalties
by Lauren Harkawik
Apr 25, 2017 | 4049 views | 0 0 comments | 23 23 recommendations | email to a friend | print
DOVER- At Monday’s school board meeting, Rep. Laura Sibilia, who is vice chair of the school board, said Dover may need to consider exploring legal options if Wardsboro does not vote to merge with the school and if nothing in the law changes.

During discussion about Act 46, Sibilia updated the board about pending legislation, S122, that could affect how Act 46 plays out by including language that extends deadlines and adds transparency and flexibility to the application process for alternative structures.

“I don’t think we have language in there right now that protects Dover,” said Sibilia.

At Town Meeting, Dover voted in the affirmative to a merger with Wardsboro, but the proposal was defeated by Wardsboro voters. A revote has been scheduled for May 1 in Wardsboro, and the Wardsboro School Board has made an official statement in support of the merger. However, if Wardsboro does not vote to merge with the school, Dover could be vulnerable to losing its small schools grant for noncompliance with Act 46. Under the current law, those schools that do not voluntarily merge by July 1 do not receive tax incentives written into the law, one of which is retention of funding currently known as the small schools grant. Those who do not voluntarily merge may also be forced into mergers in an eventual statewide plan.

“That’s the hard thing,” said chair Rich Werner. “Dover has done everything we were asked to do. We jumped through all the hoops. And then if Wardsboro votes no, we can still be assigned with other groups and that’s not fair to us.”

“If we get to a point where we’re going to be harmed and we’ve done everything,” said Sibilia, “we have our legal fund, and that’s where we start looking at taking legal action.”

“Laura’s going to go back to the Legislature and they’re going to say, ‘Laura, what’s this about you suing yourself?’” said Werner.

“I’m not threatening to sue anybody,” said Sibilia. “But as soon as we start harming good actors in this state - and never mind harming good actors, as soon as we start harming kids - with these penalties, there’s going to be a lot of lawsuits. I think people understand that.”

Sibilia outlined recent movement with regard to S122. “The House took up S122 and had a public hearing,” said Sibilia, “And there were probably 200 people or more testifying in the Statehouse on that. I think 95% of them opposed or didn’t feel that S122 went (far) enough. A lot were testifying in favor of H15, which is a bill that gave a lot more flexibility in terms of alternative structures in Act 46. The next day, the House committee voted that they would not take up H15. There were a large number of representatives in the House who had sponsored H15 and were looking for some increased flexibility.”

Reading an email on the matter aloud, Sibilia said, “We’re looking at the State Board of Ed not being able to impose rules beyond the scope of what Act 46 was, pushing the deadline for an alternative structure application out beyond November 30, and lowering student counts to 900. They’re also likely to accept language that addresses the transparency, collaboration, and flexibility of the alternative structure application process.”

If Wardsboro does not vote to merge with Dover, Dover may need to explore an alternative structure application, in which the deadline extension and changes to the alternative structure application process could be important.

Sibilia said that another issue being discussed is schools like Whitingham and Wilmington, who gave up their small school grants in advance of the requirement to collaborate by the state. “We have language asking for those small school grants to be reinstated,” said Sibilia. “I testified about that, and we’ll see what happens.”

Sibilia noted the power of testimony on legislation from local individuals. “It’s absolutely critical,” said Siblia. “(Chair) Rich (Werner) is to be commended, (Principal) Matt (Martyn) is to be commended. Randy Capitani has also testified on Dover’s behalf. It’s an arduous trip oftentimes, but it can really be the difference.”

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