River Valleys heading into annual meeting anxiety free from big issues

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DOVER and WARDSBORO — River Valleys Unified School District board members are not anticipating any big issues as they prepare for their annual meeting next week.

"I think people are fairly comfortable," board Chairman Rich Werner said during a meeting last month. "I feel very comfortable at this meeting. Last year, I was dreading this coming meeting."

Werner said there had been uncertainty last year around forming the new district, which governs the Dover and Wardsboro elementary schools and will become operational on July 1. Principals from both schools reported that they had not heard any major concerns this year.

The annual district meeting begins at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Wardsboro Town Hall.

Since students have a choice of where to attend after graduating from the Dover and Wardsboro elementary schools, an annual tuition rate will need to be set. The annual meeting warning features a $17,540 figure, the same rate for Burr & Burton Academy in Manchester.

The board is not making a recommendation one way or another. Dover has approved the rate for several years now and Wardsboro did likewise last year.

"It's up to the voters to decide," Werner said Monday at a meeting. "And by state law, it has to be on there every year. It's not anything we can just say, 'It's going to carry on from year to year.'"

Article 8, he said, "is going to get a little funny and a little touchy."

Voters are being asked to withdraw money from the capital reserve fund to offset the homestead tax rate in order to keep tax rates level. As published in the warning, the article asks to take $200,000 for that purpose. But with 18 students less in the average daily membership, Werner said, "We're actually looking at a $380,000 total shortfall."

The board anticipates an amendment to be made at the meeting. Werner suggested $300,000 would keep tax rates level but needed updated information from the Vermont Agency of Education before committing to a figure.

"We're hoping we found some extra students that were hiding in the corners," he said.

On Thursday, Windham Central Business Manager Laurie Garland said the agency continues to have certification issues with census data. She plans on making a presentation at the annual meeting.

Dr. Robert Backus will be the moderator of this year's meeting and has agreed to serve next year if voters elect him at the annual meeting.

Dover Town Clerk Andy McLean has agreed to be the school district's clerk again next year as long as voters elect him at the meeting. He has asked for a $2,400 stipend, which also will be considered at the meeting.

Dover Town Treasurer Marco Tallini has agreed to serve as the district's treasurer against next year pending a vote at the meeting. His proposed stipend is the same as the clerk's.

Three auditors also are to be elected at the meeting. They would get $200 each.

Annual stipends for the school board members are proposed to be $2,000 and the chairperson would get $2,500.

Superintendent Bill Anton anticipates the meeting would last about an hour. He said similar meetings for Leland & Gray Union Middle High School had ended in about 15 minutes.

Other articles will be decided by ballot on March 5 in Dover and Wardsboro during annual Town Meeting Day. Polls will be open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Article 9 would allow residents to go back to voting on the budget on the floor as had been tradition in both towns before the merger. An amendment to the district's articles of agreement would bring the spending plan up for consideration at the district's annual meeting next year rather than on ballots on Town Meeting Day.

"I believe that the board is pretty unanimous that we want to see this approved," said Werner.

Article 10 would allow Wardsboro to go back to electing their school board members from the floor and Dover would keep electing their board members by ballot.

"The board felt that we were facilitating Wardsboro's wishes," Werner said. "That's why this article was there."

The $5.3 million budget will be considered in Article 11. That would result in spending approximately $17,678 per "equalized pupil." A formula for "equalized pupils" weighs different criteria so the actual number of students in a district is different than the equalized pupil count.

School board members will be elected via Article 12. School Board Vice Chairman Rick Thorpe is running for the three-year seat to represent Wardsboro. And School Board member Laura Sibilia, who also serves as a state representative for the Windham-Bennington district, is going for three-year seat to represent Dover.

Reach staff writer Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com, at @CMaysBR on Twitter and 802-254-2311, ext. 273.

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