New school district concerned over grants, officials’ availability
by Lauren Harkawik
Oct 24, 2017 | 2173 views | 0 0 comments | 143 143 recommendations | email to a friend | print
DOVER - The River Valleys Unified School District Board, comprising Dover and Wardsboro, met for its second official working meeting on Tuesday. The lengthy meeting was dominated by logistics that need to be figured out before the board can make definitive decisions.

Topics discussed included how to split what’s left of a merger grant, whether it’s feasible for Dover Town Clerk Andy McLean to serve as the district’s clerk, what the role of the treasurer will be, and whether it makes sense to have assessments done of each school prior to the new district becoming active in 2019.

“We were sold a little short on what this grant was going to be,” said chair Rich Werner, introducing a discussion about the merger grant awarded to the district for its compliance with Act 46. “We were under the impression that every new school district would get a $150,000 grant.”

“That was my impression as well,” said board member Dwight Boerem. He and Werner both served on the study committee to form the articles of agreement for the new district. In Act 46, districts formed under what was defined as the “preferred structure” under the law were awarded a $150,000 merger grant.

“But we aren’t a preferred structure,” said Windham Central Supervisory Union Superintendent Bill Anton. “The side by side is an alternate governance structure.”

The River Valleys Unified School District satisfies the requirements of Act 46 by existing as a “side by side” district with West River Modified Union Education District, which comprises Brookline, Jamaica, Newfane, Townshend, and Windham (for grades seven to 12 only). The two sides of the side by side were given one $150,000 merger grant to share. Of that initial sum, all but $47,000 is spoken for.

Werner said he, Anton, and Joe Winrich, the chair of the West River Modified Union Education District board, have plans to discuss how to divvy up the remaining funds. “We need to talk and figure out what we’re going to need for the next year and a half,” said Werner.

Anton said the boards will also need to decide how to finance expenses beyond the grant money until the new school districts become active and have their own budgets.

“You will have expenses,” said Anton. “It will all either come from (the grant money), deficit spending or from the existing school districts.”

Dover Town Clerk Andy McLean, who was named the River Valleys Unified School District’s clerk at its formation meeting in September, said he isn’t sure he can perform the duties of the role because as the articles of agreement for the district are currently written, budget votes will be by Australian ballot.

McLean said that because he needs to run Dover’s town elections and the school district election will be separate, he can’t manage both elections at once.

Werner said his understanding was that the first budget vote for the new district had to be by Australian ballot but, thereafter, it could be from the floor. McLean said he hadn’t seen anything in Act 46 that indicated that, and that he felt it pertinent to talk to an attorney to find answers.

“If you go with Australian ballot, I can’t do it,” said McLean, saying he felt the determination would be better made sooner rather than later. “I don’t want to have to resign down the road. I want you to have somebody who can shepherd you through that process.”

McLean said that if the board can’t find someone else to serve, he’ll help as clerk, but he’d just as soon not. He said he thinks the board should do its best to find someone from Wardsboro to fill the role.

“There is a feeling there that Dover is the bigger town, the bigger community, the bigger school, and that Wardsboro is going to get pushed out,” said McLean. “I’ve heard that from officials. There are people there who are willing.”

The board gave McLean the go-ahead to speak to an attorney to get the question of the ballots resolved. McLean was also tasked with getting an attorney’s input on other questions, including what the role of the district’s designated treasurer will be. Marco Tallini, Dover Town Treasurer, was appointed to the role at the district’s organization meeting, but said he was unclear about what his responsibilities would be in the role.

Anton said the West River side of the side by side is suggesting that each school have an engineering study completed of its building so that a clear picture of the state of each building will be available.

“The purpose is to give you a baseline of where you’re at and help you build a capital plan,” said Anton.

Boerem said the idea had been floated in Wardsboro previously. Werner said, with the boards merging, it may not be a bad idea to get a handle on everything before the schools are officially merged and members from Wardsboro are responsible for Dover’s building and vice versa.

“This is one of the things we’re going to lose in the merger,” said Werner. “I can tell you everything you need to know about (the Dover School’s) building, because I’ve been here so long. I know everything that’s happened here. But when we’re one entity, there are going to be people who don’t know the entire history of each building.”

The board tabled the discussion until November. Also deferred was a discussion about forming subcommittees to study how to handle transportation and student attendance zones for the new district.

“I don’t think these issues are going to have easy answers,” said Werner.

The next meeting will be held at Wardsboro Elementary on Monday, November 6, at 7 pm.
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