Meeting voters will weigh in on merger plan
by Lauren Harkawik
Feb 13, 2017 | 2927 views | 0 0 comments | 105 105 recommendations | email to a friend | print
DOVER- As Dover prepares for Town Meeting, there is a lot on the table for the Dover School, particularly with a proposed merger in the mix. Here is a breakdown of what’s new this year.

Article 1: Should Dover join the River Valleys Unified School District?

This article, which per state regulations will be voted on by Australian ballot, pertains to whether or not Dover should merge with Marlboro and Wardsboro to become a unified school district. The merger, which is proposed as a means of fulfilling the regulations set forth in Act 46, has been a hot topic of discussion in all three towns. A study committee with members from all three towns was formed, and the committee drew up articles of agreement, which will act as the unified district’s guiding principles should the towns vote “yes” on the merger.

If voted in the affirmative, the Dover School’s property will become the property of the unified school district, meaning Dover will no longer own its school building. All operating deficits and/or surpluses also become that of the unified school district.

In terms of operating structure, not much will change for Dover. The River Valleys Unified School District would operate three K-6 buildings, one in Dover, one in Wardsboro, and one in Marlboro. Marlboro would lose its seventh and eighth grades in order to fit this structure. Students at all three schools would have choice for grades seven through 12. What could change for Dover is the amount of tuition that the unified district will pay on each student’s behalf. Currently, Dover pays the equivalent of the Burr & Burton tuition rate. Marlboro and Wardsboro both pay the state average, which is typically lower than Burr & Burton. If the merger happens, residents from the entire unified district would vote on the rate to pay on behalf of each student, which could mean a cap at the state average.

Per the articles of agreement, Wardsboro and Dover are “necessary” and Marlboro is “advisable,” which means that if Dover and Wardsboro decide to merge and Marlboro does not, the merger will move forward. If either of the two necessary towns decide not to merge, even if Marlboro votes yes, the merger will not move forward. In addition, Dover, Wardsboro, and Marlboro are pursuing a “side by side” model with Brookline, Jamaica, Newfane, Townshend, and Windham, which essentially means that in order for the River Valleys School District to be established, the other towns need to vote in the affirmative for a merger of their own.

For those who have questions about the merger and what it would mean, the unified district’s study committee will be holding a public informational meeting on Monday, February 27, at 6:30 pm in Dover Town Hall.

Article 2: School board officials

There will be two sets of school board appointments made. These will be voted on by Australian ballot.

The first set comprises two appointees for the current Dover School Board. Chair Rich Werner is running for his three-year seat again. Chip Vicary, whose two-year term is coming to a close, did not submit a petition to run again. No one has submitted a petition for Vicary’s seat, so the seat will be listed on the ballot as a write-in.

The second set of appointments comprises members to represent Dover in the new River Valleys Unified School District Board should the merger be voted in the affirmative. All residents are encouraged to vote for board members for the River Valleys Unified School District Board even if they are not voting “yes” for the merger itself. Should the merger go through, the voted appointees will be the people representing Dover on the new board, which will replace the existing Dover School Board in 2019 and will work up until that point to create policies and procedures for the new unified district.

The board has three open seats in four-, three-, and two-year term lengths. Werner will run for the four-year term, Laura Sibilia will run for the two-year term, and Kerry McDonald-Cady will run for the three-year term.

Article 3: New pre-K playground

The Dover School Board is proposing a $25,000 new playground for the school’s pre-K program. Per the state’s pre-K program rules, pre-K programs need to have dedicated safe spaces for outdoor play. Currently, the pre-K playground comprises a collection of donated pieces.

Article 6: Place budget surplus into the capital reserve

The amount of the surplus will not be determined until the end of the school year, but Werner said last year’s surplus was substantial and amounted to around $160,000. If this is voted in the affirmative, this year’s amount will be added to the capital reserve fund.

If the town votes in the affirmative on a merger into the the River Valleys School District (Article 1), this reserve will become the property of the River Valleys Unified School District when the district begins operating in 2019.

Article 9: School budget

The proposed budget is $3,105,067. The resulting educational spending would be $16,461.84 per equalized pupil, which is up 1.08% from last year.

If the new budget is approved, projected homestead and non-resident tax rates are $1.56 and $1.48, respectively. Article 10, if voted in the affirmative, may offset the homestead tax rate.

Article 10: Offset homestead tax rate

This article asks whether school directors should be permitted to withdraw from the town’s capital reserve fund to offset the homestead tax rate. The article caps the amount to be withdrawn at $330,000.

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