At a joint selectboard meeting in August, Dover Selectboard members asked Wilmington to make a contribution to the two towns’ education task force efforts. The task force was formed last year in response to the announcement of a legislative study of education funding. The task force commissioned its own study of education funding, which focused on how state education money is distributed and spent. The state study found that Vermont’s method of raising education money had achieved a substantial level of equality. While Wilmington and Dover’s study didn’t contradict the state’s findings, the locally-commissioned study suggested there was little evidence of a relationship between tax rates and educational opportunity – the spending by the state hasn’t resulted in better student performance. The two towns hired a lobbyist to push for legislative action to address issues faced by small schools. At the end of the year, based on the two towns’ study, the Legislature appointed a committee to recommend a method of collecting statewide data that will measure educational opportunity, review how Vermont’s education resources are allocated, and how impediments to opportunity can be mitigated.
The Dover Selectboard, in recognition of the financial hit Wilmington took during Irene, funded the effort last year. This year, they asked Wilmington to contribute as much as they could, up to half, of the approximately $50,000 cost for continued lobbying.
Board member Susan Haughwout kicked off the discussion Tuesday evening with a suggestion that Wilmington fund up to $25,000 for the effort. “I think it’s a very worthwhile pursuit, and a lot of headway has been made,” she said. “And it’s a way for us to partner with Dover especially in light of all the help they gave us last year. I hope we would consider substantial support.” Board member Jim Burke agreed. “Sometimes you have to take a gamble. We lost a lot with Act 60 and Act 68, and now we have a crack opening in the door.”
Diane Chapman offered a different viewpoint. “I’ve been fighting this since 1992,” she said. “I don’t want to take away from what Susie (Haughwout), Phil (Taylor), and Laura (Sibilia) have done, and I admire their passion. But last year I thought it was for one year, and now I’m a little concerned that, at the Dover meeting, they were already talking about next year. I may be burned out, but I don’t know how much change is going to come from this.”
But Chapman agreed that Wilmington had an obligation to their northern neighbor. “Dover has been good to us, and we have to give something back. They helped us out when we were in a pinch.” In addition to funding the efforts of the education task force last year, Dover also funded an emergency business assistance coordinator position that, although it was a “bitown” effort, helped many more Wilmington businesses than Dover businesses. Dover also funded a $100,000 marketing effort to counter the negative image of storm damage after Irene – an effort that benefited many beyond Dover.
Board member Meg Streeter said she agreed with Chapman on the issue. “I see the value of what I hope will come out of this, although I think it’s unfortunate that the Vermont education establishment didn’t pick this (inequity) up. I do want to support Dover, but I suggest a smaller amount.”
School board member Phil Taylor, a member of the legislative committee, said the current efforts were having an effect on how the issue is viewed in Montpelier. “You’ve fought previously, but you didn’t have the benefit of a lobbying firm behind you, and that’s a critical difference,” he said. “You don’t have the upper hand unless you have help.”
Taylor explained that, after the legislative committee is done with its work and makes a recommendation for a system to monitor equal spending, the lobbyist will help push through a bill to make it law. “Our plan is to make sure we measure what we’re buying,” he said. Additional legislation and lobbying efforts may be necessary based on the data collected.
Streeter made a motion to spend $5,000 on the effort, and to consider adding a line item for future funding during upcoming budget discussions. The motion passed, but board members said they don’t know where the money will come from – at least not yet.
In other unfunded matters, town manager Scott Murphy gave board members some good news and some bad news. The good news was that work on the South Main Street Bridge at the bottom of Castle Hill was completed before Labor Day. The bad news was that the repair cost more than the original quote. “The original estimate was $87,000, the final bill is $111,000,” Murphy said. “At the time they gave the estimate, they had only a quarter to half of the bridge uncovered. When they opened up the rest they found more damage, holes that had gone almost all the way through in some places. There was a lot of extra work.”
The board also heard from Haystack developer Jim Barnes regarding his proposal to expand the Mount Snow Airport (see more in the Dover Selectboard article, page 2). The board agreed to consider selling or transferring town-owned Haystack properties to the airport at a future meeting.