Dover voters approve school merger again
by Lauren Harkawik
Jul 14, 2017 | 2578 views | 0 0 comments | 44 44 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Andy McLean, Linda Holland, and Marshall Brooks count votes on Tuesday night.
Andy McLean, Linda Holland, and Marshall Brooks count votes on Tuesday night.
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DOVER- Voters in Dover approved a school district merger with Wardsboro for a second time on Tuesday, in a revote held due to a wording oversight in the original warning voted on at Town Meeting. Tuesday’s final result was 47-9. Six of the 56 votes were cast via absentee ballot.

Following the counting of the votes, four of the six will-be board members for the River Valleys School District, comprising Dover and Wardsboro, held a “gathering of citizens” to discuss how they will handle business for the new district when their board becomes official this fall, after the Agency of Education certifies the vote. Because the board will not be official until that process has unfolded, it cannot yet make decisions on behalf of the new district. In the gathering of citizens, the future board members discussed approaches they will take once they’re able to conduct official business.

At Tuesday evening’s gathering, the will-be board discussed a possible mission statement for the district and strategies for handling the adoption of policies for the new district. The members-elect also agreed to offer their support to Marlboro, which, to comply with Act 46, needs the support of the other Windham Central Supervisory Union merged districts.

The group began by working on the district’s mission statement. “We can’t adopt it now,” said Dover School Board Chair Rich Werner. “But we can warn it once we’re official and get more public input at that time. A mission statement gives the administration a lot of direction as far as where to go.”

Following some brainstorming, the group agreed on a working mission statement, which reads, “Our mission is to educate our students to become inquiring, knowledgeable, and caring global citizens through challenging academic programs. We will provide a safe and supportive environment that will connect our students, their families, and the community, while respecting and celebrating each town’s local identity.”

In forming a new school district, the unified board is tasked with creating policies and procedures that the new district will operate under. There are a number of required policies, many of which the new district may decide to use proposed language for.

“Again, although we can’t adopt any of this now, knowing ahead of time which ones we like and which ones we need to focus on will save us a lot of time down the road,” said Werner. “Some of the policies are going to take time and effort, like transportation and what building (within the district) you can attend. Those will probably take several meetings, because we’ll want a lot of input on that. At Dover it worked really well for us to get the easier ones done first and then the more controversial ones.”

A memorandum was distributed regarding Marlboro’s potential path for complying with Act 46. Originally, Marlboro was part of the proposed merger between Dover and Wardsboro, but Marlboro merging with the other two schools would have meant closing its seventh- and eighth-grade programs, which was a heavy issue in Marlboro.

“Marlboro was in our study committee and went through all the hoops with us,” said Werner. “We’ve known from day one that they had a tough decision because they have programming they think very highly of and they would have lost their middle school. That would be like asking us to add a middle school or lose a preschool or something else we didn’t want to lose. They did bring it to a vote and it was defeated overwhelmingly.”

In the memorandum, the Marlboro School Board wrote, in part, “The Marlboro School District is proposing to remain an Existing District under the guidelines established in revisions to Act 46 by the Vermont Legislature in 2017. The route we proposed to follow is to apply, as a Supervisory Union, to become a 2x2x1 side by side with the River Valleys School District (Dover/Wardsboro) as a 2 and with the West River Modified Union Education District (Newfane/Brookline/Townsend/Jamaica) as another 2. We will in effect become a merged Supervisory Union with 3 elementary districts instead of the current arrangement.”

The memorandum goes on to explain that among the stipulations of the Act 46 revisions are that Marlboro must make its case for how it meets the goals of Act 46 under this proposed structure, and that the other districts with which Marlboro plans to merge must vote to accept the arrangement by September 1.

“Unfortunately we’re not going to be formed before that happens,” said Werner. “But we do have four members here tonight, which is a majority, and if we’re all to say we agree with this, if it’s OK with you guys, I will write a letter to them as the chair of the Act 46 study group, saying we understood they were in a unique position, they did work with us, and although we’re not officially formed yet, we’ve had meetings of concerned citizens and we had members of the elected board agree that they would support this in a future meeting after we’re formed. We agreed at Windham Central to do everything we could to help the two towns that didn’t vote (to merge).”

“I’m fine with that,” said Laura Sibilia, who is vice chair of the Dover School Board and who will serve on the River Valleys School District board as well. “But I would recommend that they find out if that’s legitimate.”

Werner said he will draft a letter, which he will present at the next gathering of citizens, which has been tentatively scheduled for August 1 at 7:30 pm at Wardsboro Elementary School.

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