DOVER >> Since late last summer, the Windham Central Supervisory Union Act 46 Elementary Study Committee concerning Dover, Marlboro and Wardsboro has met twice monthly, rotating locations among the three towns. The committee consists of 10 members, volunteers from each of the three towns. From Dover: Committee Chairman Richard Werner, Laura Sibilia, School Board member, Chip Vicary, School Board member, and Randy Capitani, Dover resident. From Marlboro: Dan MacArthur, School Board member, Celena Romo, School Board member, and Lucy Gratwick, Marlboro resident. From Wardsboro: Mike Murphy, School Board member, Committee Second Chairman Dwight Boerem, a Wardsboro resident;, and Jill Dean, Wardsboro resident.
These individuals, who serve the towns in a variety of capacities, were tasked with working towards an agreement that will form a new educational school district for these towns that meets the goals of Vermont's Act 46 — to provide better and more educational opportunities for students in these three towns.
The purpose of the Elementary Study Committee is to generate a report before the end of the year, a detailed document to be presented to the voters of the three towns well in advance of the annual Town Meeting Day in March 2017, which is when the voters will cast Australian ballots accepting or rejecting the plan for school consolidation. The report that comes from the study committee's work is a record of their considerations and a path forward for increasing the effectiveness and efficiency of the governance of the schools with the aim of increasing student opportunities into the future. Should the voters ultimately reject the recommendations of the Elementary Study Committee, Vermont's Agency of Education will mandate changes to school administration for these towns.
John Everitt, an education consultant contracted by this Study Committee, said: "My role is to gather and present information needed by the study committee to make the most informed decisions possible. Committee members are volunteers and deserve assistance in uncovering the complexities involved in governance consolidation." Everitt's recommendations are intended to help the study committee more deeply understand the issues and possibilities in consolidating school governance, but he said, "The committee makes the decisions about if and how to move forward on a proposal for the voters to consider."
At a meeting in September, Everitt presented his findings to the committee on how the elementary schools in each of the three towns differ and how that could affect voting on consolidation. He said: "Each of the schools has an individual culture, program, and relationship with the community. An important aspect of consolidating governance is to protect the great work already being done in these schools." Through the Vermont School Boards Association, he has worked with several Vermont school districts on governance studies.
During its two September meetings, the committee reviewed Everitt's findings in detail and studied the per-pupil costs and enrollment projections for Dover, Marlboro and Wardsboro. The members have also been reviewing the successes and failures of other school districts have had in getting their consolidation plans accepted by the State and by voters. The conclusion of the committee up to now is that the number of variables, town by town, and school by school, complicates the task of creating an Act 46 report that voters can easily comprehend. Throughout October, the committee will continue to draft the Articles in what is called a "side-by-side" plan —that is, none of the schools in the three towns will close, but will be governed by a single School Board. The make-up of that tri-town School Board will be addressed in one of the final Articles as to how the towns, of unequal population and unequal pupil enrollment, are represented and as to the members' voting powers.
"We are now in the process of working on the actual articles of agreement which is the second hardest part of this committee," said Werner. "Moving forward towards a vote and giving the public the information to make an informed decision will be the hardest job of the committee."
WCSU Superintendent William Anton recently commented on the dedication of this study group. "I am amazed, yet not surprised by the progress of the Elementary Study group for Dover, Marlboro and Wardsboro. The leadership of the WCSU Executive Committee immediately after the passage of Act 46 laid the groundwork for thoughtful, collaborative, and informed Study Committees to be created and to function. I look forward to seeing what this coalition of citizens can accomplish for our students, our schools, our communities, and our collective future. We are in very good hands."
He is superintendent of the union that serves ten towns, and geographically speaking it is the second largest supervisory union in Vermont, covering 365 square miles.
When asked about the group's progress to date, Werner said: "The committee is working hard towards our goal of developing a framework for a new school district involving Marlboro, Wardsboro and Dover that could provide increased educational opportunities for our children and we are making progress on this goal. I personally am very satisfied with John Everitt's contributions. He is not coming to us with any preconceived thoughts, and has been thoughtfully listening to what the committee members are looking for with regard to our schools."
Voters may want to log into the committee's blog site for links to videos of the meetings, which show the full extent of the discussions on the major issues, as well as the minor details of consolidation.
"We hope to have a final report available sometime in late November or December, as it has to be reviewed at the Education Department," said Werner.
In November, the committee plans meet with the Vermont Agency of Education to present its report for review and revision, if needed. Although the State has issued a workbook pertaining to Act 46, which study committees throughout the state have been using to draft their reports, each committee must determine their own articles and recommendations.
Residents, taxpayers and voters have several options if they wish to keep informed about the progress of the tri-town Study Committee. One way to keep up to date is to attend the meetings. In addition, voters may sign up for periodic email news about the Study Committee by sending their name, address and email address to email@example.com.
A third way to stay informed is to visit the newly created blog at www.wcsu-committee.blogspot.com. This website contains the full minutes of every meeting, links to video tapings of the meetings, the full schedule of upcoming meetings, a page of Frequently Asked Questions, and a page of links to valuable information and articles about Act 46. Visitors to the blog may submit questions by email, which the Committee will answer and may post. Members of their local Front Porch Forums will also see the Committee's meeting schedule as a calendar event