The board and members of the public who were present discussed the board’s forthcoming need to evaluate and address the towns’ individual academic approaches in anticipation of the two towns’ voters coming together to vote on a budget. The district will become effective on July 1, 2019, and voters will vote on the first unified budget for the new district in February 2019.
“There is the practical issue that we’re going to be in front of the voters with one budget,” said board member Laura Sibilia. Sibilia said that as independent entities, each town has had its own educational priorities, but those priorities will need to be reconciled in a shared budget. Throughout the meeting, the discussion came back to the Dover School’s International Baccalaureate program, which Principal Matt Martyn estimated to cost about $30,000 annually, and whether it would remain a priority in a joint budget.
Sibilia and chair Rich Werner, who both serve on the River Valleys board from Dover, were cautiously neutral about the question of IB’s place in a new district. Werner noted that last year when the merger was to be voted on, the Dover School Board made the decision not to make an official recommendation about which way to vote. Werner said he felt the board was clear at that time that they couldn’t guarantee anything about the new district that would be formed through an affirmative vote beyond what was in the articles of agreement.
“The only guarantees are what’s in the articles (of agreement for the merged district) and the articles don’t say that IB will be the curriculum choice for this new district,” said Werner. “We could not guarantee that there would be IB as Dover (School Board) members and I can’t tell you that there will be IB as a River Valleys school director because we haven’t gotten that far yet.”
Parent Tom Oakley said that if the IB program could be lost, it may be counter to what many people thought they were voting for.
“You did not make a recommendation, but that being said, there was a lot of verbiage coming from your seats about a leap of faith that you’re going to be able to keep this and keep that,” said Oakley. “I think now would be a good time (to let people know) if they’re going to be smacked in the face with there’s a chance you are going to lose your IB program.”
Werner took issue with Oakley’s assertion. “I’m going to stop you right there, because I’m not saying you’re going to lose your IB program,” said Werner. “You’re putting words in my mouth and that bothers me. We were very neutral on that. And we did say it was a leap of faith, but we did not tell you how to vote.”
Werner said that from the perspective of the state, the objective of Act 46 was not to keep everything the same while cutting school board members, but to address inequities. Board member Dwight Boerem said the merger isn’t something the boards decided to pursue out of the blue or would have done had it not been for Act 46.
“This was something put upon us by the state,” said Boerem. “We may have been recommending it in a sense because this is the best that we can do. Maybe that’s what you were hearing. But this was something that had to be done.”
Sibilia reiterated that no one was making definitive statements about the future of IB or about any yet-to-be-addressed programming decisions.
“I’m not saying we necessarily have to cut budgets or that we’re going to lose the IB program,” said Sibilia. “But I am thinking about the practicality of how we are going to reconcile, and I don’t know how that’s going to be. We’ve fought and represented that Dover wanted the IB program. But there are differences in priorities (in the two towns) and we have to think about those. We have to acknowledge them and say how are the joint voters going to think about that?”
The board’s next official meeting is on Monday, February 5, at 7 pm at Wardsboro Elementary.
In the meantime, they will host informational meetings about the board’s upcoming annual meeting. Informational meetings will be held on Tuesday, January 30, at 7 pm at the Dover School and Monday, February 5 and Tuesday, February 6, at 7 pm at Wardsboro Elementary, leading up to the the annual meeting on Tuesday, February 13, at 7 pm at Dover Town Hall.