In revote, voters OK Act 46 merger

DOVER — Once again, Dover voters have overwhelmingly OK'd merging their school district with neighboring Wardsboro.

In a special election held July 11, the tally was 47-9 in favor of creating a new district with shared board governance between the two towns. Both towns' elementary schools will remain open.

Dover already had approved the Act 46 merger plan in March. But the revote was made necessary by an error in the previous vote warning's language.

Despite that glitch, Dover School Board Chairman Rich Werner said the revote process went smoothly, with only a few questions from residents.

“We didn't have a lot of issues,” Werner said.

Dover is part of Windham Central Supervisory Union. Given the geography and educational diversity of that union, towns have pursued a variety of solutions under Act 46, the 2015 school governance law that pushes for larger, consolidated districts statewide.

Four of the five towns in the Leland & Gray school union voted in March to form a merged “West River” district. The town of Windham, however, decided against that plan and is trying to maintain its small district's independence.

Marlboro also is formulating its own Act 46 plans after deciding not to merge with Dover and Wardsboro in a new “River Valleys” district.

Though it now appears that the Dover-Wardsboro merger will move forward, that voting process has been complicated.

Wardsboro nixed the plan in March before approving it in a subsequent revote.

And Dover, despite a convincing 124-75 vote in favor of the merger in March, was forced to revisit the issue. That's because state officials noticed that the town had warned school-closure language that hadn't been approved by the state Board of Education and wasn't on warnings in Wardsboro and Marlboro.

With that language corrected, the merger plan passed easily in Dover's Australian ballot voting on July 11. While the special election drew far fewer voters than March's Town Meeting Day election did, Werner pointed out that the percentage of “yes” votes was much higher this time around.

He also noted that, after not endorsing the merger in March, “this time, the school board did give their opinion - the board felt it was a good thing.”

After lengthy Act 46 deliberations in Dover and Wardsboro, the July 11 vote set the stage for more work as officials organize a new school district and, eventually, create a budget.

The merged district officially starts educational operations on July 1, 2019.

“At least now, we kind of know where we're headed,” Werner said. “We know who's going to be involved, and we know who the players are.”

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