DOVER -- The Selectboard has decided to fund a lobbyist group for another year to ensure that the town’s interests in education will continued to be watched over in the State House.
Not everyone agreed with that decision.
"I think we’re spending money on lobbyists that we could spend on more important things," said resident Eddie Barber. "I think we’re spinning our wheels here. Nothing against lobbyists. We’re not getting our full dollars’ worth. I think it’s much simpler to take that money and use it in a different method and we’d get more for our dollars’ worth."
He raised concerns about seeing the results, to which Selectboard Chairman Randy Terk replied: "I think there was a lot of results. If we hadn’t been able to eliminate the Small Schools Grant, our taxes would have went up $75,000."
On Oct. 1, the Selectboard approved funding for the KSE Partners lobbyist group, but not before hearing from several residents and Dover School Board members.
The rate for the lobbyist group will stay the same as last year, about $65,000, Dover School Board member Laura Sibilia pointed out. The contract includes legal research in addition to lobbying that the firm had done in the past. The legal research would be pertaining to the rights that a taxpayer has to obtain data.
"We’re going to continue trying to collect data, so we know exactly what we’re buying with the $1.3 billion in tax dollars," Sibilia said. "We’re trying to stop bad things from happening."
She mentioned a threat last year that had to do with the state’s Small Schools Grant, which would have affected Dover School by $70,000 to $75,000.
"It would have been a five cent increase," said Sibilia, of the tax rate for property owners in Dover.
The Small School Grant program was created in part to provide additional funding for schools of 100 students or fewer. It was started in 1997 to help towns fund their schools after Vermont moved to a statewide property tax system to pay for education. It also had been used to aid schools with declining enrollment.
Its inception had sparked more consolidation efforts in smaller school districts and suggestions regarding alternative physical arrangements for schools.
At Dover School,students have been applauded for high New England Comprehensive Assessment Program test scores in back-to-back years. School officials are expecting just as successful scores this year as last year.
The school board has been fighting against any actions taken at a state level that would compromise Dover School’s successes.
Sibilia brought up Senator Jeanette White coming to Dover’s rescue at the end of the legislative session.
White apparently had opposed an amendment which would have hurt Dover. Other legislators were for the amendment. She spoke to fellow senators on the floor about the amendment.
A lobbyist of KSE said White explained the amendment, "very, very well."
Dover School Board member Rich Werner said that people were now listening to Dover in Montpelier and the lobbyists had assisted with that accomplishment.
"People in positions of power now know where Dover is," he continued. "They’re actually listening to us. Being able to go and talk about that Small Schools Grant, that wouldn’t have happened 10 or 15 years ago."
Some of the residents wanted to see other towns and cities join Dover and assist with the costs of the lobbyist group. Currently, Wilmington is the only town making its own contribution to the lobbyist group. Finding more financial support for this endeavor was a goal voiced by several people at the meeting.
"I understand that and I appreciate that," Sibilia responded. "That in and of itself would need to be funded. Going out and making this coalition, that is a full time job. We’re building coalitions in the State House."
In the meantime, Sibilia maintained her position that the town should keep up its guard against "bad things from happening" and at least partial protection for Dover would result from funding the lobbyist group.
Chris Mays can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 273, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Chris on Twitter @CMaysReformer.