Petition calls for North Bennington school revote
By Patrick McArdle
STAFF WRITER | November 14,2012
NORTH BENNINGTON — After a vote to close the North Bennington Graded School passed in October, a petition might force a second revote. That would make three votes total, on replacing the public school with an independent school.
Gail Mauricette, school clerk for North Bennington, said a petition calling for a revote had been submitted to her Tuesday. State law requires a petition calling for a revote to have the signatures of 5 percent of registered voters.
For a vote in the North Bennington school district, which includes the village and parts of the town of Shaftsbury, Mauricette said a successful petition would have needed about 80 signatures. The petition submitted Tuesday had 130 signatures. However, Mauricette said she had not yet had a chance to check all the signatures and make sure the names match the voter checklist.
Joyce Scarey, who turned in the petitions Tuesday, said her concerns included turning the public school over to a board whose members are not elected by local residents and who are not required to have open meetings. She said those who signed the petition have similar concerns.
“All the signatures that are on that page, they’re citizens (who) believe that North Bennington Graded School should remain as it has for over 100 years, a public school,” she said.
Scarey said she supports the school and pointed out that her husband, John, was on the North Bennington School Board for 13 years.
In March, voters overwhelmingly approved ballot questions on Town Meeting Day that would have allowed the School Board in North Bennington, called the North Bennington Prudential Committee, to close the school and lease the building and its equipment to the board of trustees for an independent school called the Village School of North Bennington.
Independent schools must be approved by the Vermont Board of Education which tabled the request in May.
Over the summer, the School Board decided to continue operation of the public school. Because the vote in March included language about closing the public school at the end of the 2011-12 school year, School Board members said they believed they would need a new vote before moving forward with their plans.
The state School Board also said they would need a second vote before approving the independent school to be sure it had voter support.
The October vote had two questions, both of which needed to pass in order for the public school to close. The first question, asking if the voters would give the School Board permission to close the school, passed with 52.3 percent of the voters supporting the question, 294-268.
If the petition filed Tuesday is found to be valid, the School Board will have to host another election within 60 days, according to state law.
Eva Sutton, co-chairwoman of the independent school’s board of trustees, said in an email that she expected the prudential committee will set the date soon for the next vote.
“We will work, for the third time, toward a positive vote of the North Bennington school district so that we can open the Village School of North Bennington in the fall of 2013 for children locally,” Sutton said.
Supporters of the independent school, like Sutton, say that it will keep North Bennington’s school located in the community and not subject to the possibility of forced closure or consolidation which they are concerned the state may require especially if enrollment declines and education expenses increase.