North Bennington board plans to schedule new vote on closing school
By Patrick McArdle
STAFF WRITER | November 19,2012
NORTH BENNINGTON — With confirmation that the petitions calling for reconsideration of an October vote to close the local elementary school are valid, the North Bennington Graded School Prudential Committee has scheduled a special meeting at 9 a.m. Tuesday to set a date for another vote.
The agenda for the special meeting on Tuesday, which will take place in the library at the North Bennington Graded School, calls for the board to discuss and set a date for the new vote.
Ray Mullineaux, chairman of the School Board, said the board will have to have a conversation about the right time for the vote, given the restraints of the law and the season of the year. The vote has to be within 60 days of the date the petitions were turned in.
“Because of this particular situation, the vote could fall during the holidays and I don’t think that’s a particularly good time to have a vote,” he said.
A large group of North Bennnington residents, including the School Board, are in favor of closing the public school and opening an independent school, the Village School of North Bennington, for which a board of trustees has already been created.
Supporters say the independent school will remove any danger of the state forcing the North Bennington school to close or merge with another school and allow the school to offer a high-quality education even if enrollment and budgets decline.
But there are also many residents who are concerned about making the school “private” and turning it over to a board of trustees whose members are not elected and who will not meet in public session.
The issue has divided the village enough that the difference in the October vote was only 26 votes. While the vote to close the school was successful at 294-268, the yes votes won by getting 52.3 percent of the vote, a little more than 1 percent of what’s needed for victory.
Petitions with about 130 signatures were turned in to School Clerk Gail Mauricette last week. Mauricette said Saturday that of those signatures, 84 were needed to force a revote. She had confirmed on Friday that at least that many were signatures from registered voters.
In order for the October vote to be overturned, a simple majority of the voters must vote against closing the school, but the votes cast in the new election must equal at least two-thirds of the vote cast in favor of closing the school in October.
Because 294 voters approved closing the school, that means at least 196, or two-thirds the first number, must vote against closing the school. This control was put in place so that a much smaller number of voters cannot overturn a decision made by a much larger group of voters.
However, those opposed to closing the school would prevail if they get at least 196 votes as well as casting the majority of votes. They do not need a supermajority of votes to prevail.
The new vote would be the third taken in the village. At town meeting in March, support was strong for closing the school, and three questions, asking for permission to close the school, lease it to another entity for use as an independent school, and setting the tuition, passed by a majority of more than two-thirds.
The Village School of North Bennington can’t be created until it’s approved by the Vermont Board of Education. There have been several delays in the process, and over the summer, the state board asked the local School Board to host another vote to be sure voters still approved closing the public school.
North Bennington School Board members had said they planned another vote anyway because the March vote was predicated on closing the school after the 2011-12 school year.
While Mullineaux said he hopes to set the date for the new vote Tuesday, he doesn’t expect to give the official warning, as required by law, until another special meeting in December because of the requirements regarding the maximum and minimum time for warning a vote.