“I think it’s going to go down in flames,” said Sibilia.
The weighting study was mandated through Act 49, which was signed into law by Gov. Phil Scott on May 23, 2017. Per the law, the study was to be completed by December 15, 2017. It was meant to analyze the factors used in determining the number of equalized pupils and average daily membership at a school. Through the weighting system, several criteria affect equalized per-pupil funding. Sibilia has been pushing for a rural weight to be included in those factors.
In November, it was reported in Seven Days that secretary of education Rebecca Holcombe said she did not expect to initiate or complete the mandated study until the agency of education had “the capacity to do so” and that the study would not unfold in the designated timeline. Subsequently, Sibilia, along with Rep. John Gannon and Rep. Ben Jickling, sent a letter to Holcombe in which they threatened legal action if the study was not completed. The Dover School Board sent a letter urging the study’s completion as well.
On Monday, Sibilia said the administration requested $300,000 to complete the study. “Appropriations asked the education committee if that was their highest priority,” said Sibilia. “I was in the committee when (chair of the House Education Committee Rep.) Dave Sharpe was testifying, and he said ‘It was when we came out last year,’ but he’d have to check with the committee to see if it’s still their highest priority. Apparently, it’s not.”
In a memorandum dated January 11 from Sharpe to Rep. Catherine Toll, chair of the House Committee on Appropriations, Sharpe wrote, “While we believe that this study is important and would help us assess the effectiveness and fairness of our equalized pupil weighting system, it is not our top priority.”
Sharpe went on to say that the committee requests approval of the $300,000 to the Agency of Education to “facilitate the addition of two staff positions.”
“We believe that the Agency is and has been understaffed for years,” wrote Sharpe, “and faces particular staffing challenges this year in the areas of pre-kindergarten education, special education, and Act 46 implementation.”
“I think they’re getting nothing,” said Sibilia at Monday’s meeting. “It’s going over to the Senate, and it’s my understanding that the appropriations committee in the Senate is not feeling friendly about it. (The study) still has to be done. I’m not sure what Plan B is yet.”
“It has to be done by December (2017),” said board member Kerry McDonald-Cady.
“That’s what the law was,” said chair Rich Werner.
“There is usually flex,” said Sibilia. “There is normal back and forth negotiation. So I expect that that is what will be happening here. But I’m not sure what the end result will be.”