The board will meet at 7 pm every first and third Monday of the month. Meetings will take place at Wardsboro Elementary on the first Monday and at the Dover School on the third.
The meeting kicked off with organization of the board. Dover School Board chair Rich Werner will serve as chair for the River Valleys board as well. Rick Thorpe will serve as vice chair, and Kerry McDonald-Cady will serve as the board’s clerk.
The board preliminarily agreed to move forward with boilerplate language for many district policies.
The district’s transportation policy was withheld from the initial bunch, with Werner saying he thinks figuring out districtwide transportation policies “may not be as easy as we think.” A proficiency-based graduation requirements policy was also pulled. “We don’t graduate students at the elementary level,” said Werner.
The rest of the policies will be posted for the public to review before the board adopts them. In Wardsboro, they will be posted at the Wardsboro General Store, the town clerk’s office, the Wardsboro and West Wardsboro post offices, the West Wardsboro Store, and Wardsboro Elementary. In Dover, the policies will be posted at the Dover School.
Also to be posted is the district’s mission statement, which, as proposed, 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.”
After the policy and mission statement discussions, Werner told the board “That was the easy stuff, guys,” and, with no members of the public present at the meeting, introduced a conversation about how best to communicate with the public as the district goes through the work of deciding how it will operate when it becomes active in 2019.
“I think it’s important to be intentional and to over-communicate as much as possible,” said board member Laura Sibilia. “Change is uncomfortable. People get nervous about it.”
Thorpe suggested that given that there aren’t too many households between the two towns, it may be possible to reach out via email or letter. Werner said the Dover Police Department tried to gather business emails at one time and “it’s much harder than you think.” Werner suggested that perhaps a blog, similar to the one Anita Rafael kept for the study committee that formed the articles of agreement for the district, would be helpful. The WCSU study committee also had its meetings videotaped by Brattleboro Community TV. The River Valleys Unified School District’s September 22 meeting was also filmed.
“I’ve had people tell me they saw me in that video,” said board member Barry Pearson. “People do watch them.”
“I see no harm in filming the meetings,” said board member Dwight Boerem, who also served on the study committee. “I wouldn’t be opposed.”
The board decided to invite Rafael to its next meeting to discuss managing a blog, and to hire BCTV to film meetings through February, at which point continuing to videotape will be left up to a public vote.
Sibilia said the board should consider whether it wants to send a letter about a rural weighting study that is supposed to be happening at the state level but, to her knowledge, is not.
“When the state figures out how much money they’re going to give us, they have these calculations they use,” said Werner. “We don’t get money per pupil, we get a block grant, but it’s based on the average weighted daily membership.”
“Legislation has passed asking for a weighting study to be done looking at several of the weights and adding a rural weight,” said Sibilia. “It’s something that we’ve been pushing for a couple of years. It’s a notion of should it cost the same to educate your standard fifth-grader at Dover as it does your standard fifth-grader in Essex? Shouldn’t it actually cost more for the Dover student? Shouldn’t that student count as more? And we’re penalized right now if we spend more.”
Sibilia said that to her knowledge, the study was not being done. “If that correlated with no action being taken on education finance this year, that would be okay,” said Sibilia. “But my understanding is that’s not the case. Which means rural schools will be in trouble again.”
The matter will be discussed at greater length at the board’s November 6 meeting because Sibilia cannot attend the board’s next meeting, which is scheduled for Monday, October 16, at 7 pm at the Dover School.