North Bennington school closure revote will be Jan. 3
By Patrick McArdle
STAFF WRITER | November 21,2012
NORTH BENNINGTON — The new year will start with a revote on closing the North Bennington Graded School on an unconventional day for a vote as residents will be asked for the third time in less than a year about the future of their kindergarten through sixth-grade school.
The North Bennington Prudential Committee, which is the School Board in the village, voted unanimously to schedule the vote for Jan. 3. The vote will be on a Thursday although most Vermont votes take place on a Tuesday.
Raymond Mullineaux, chairman of the School Board, said the vote had to be scheduled no later than Jan. 12 but because a vote must be warned no more than 40 days in advance and no less than 30, the soonest the vote could be scheduled would have been just around Christmas.
“I assume nobody is going to propose that we have it on the 20th of December being five days before Christmas, a major holiday ... and I assume between Christmas and New Year’s, no one is going to want it in that time period,” he said.
Gail Mauricette, the school clerk, suggested the board consider Jan. 8 to meet the legal requirements for the timing of the revote but also keep the voting on a Tuesday. But Matthew Patterson, a member of the School Board, said he believed the vote needed to be earlier.
The Village School of North Bennington needs approval from the Vermont Board of Education to be created but at meetings over the summer and earlier this month, board members said they wanted to be sure North Bennington voters were in favor of the change to their school.
Patterson said if the revote was done on Jan. 8 and voters supported closing the school, there would not be enough time to get it on the state School Board’s agenda for March.
“By then we would be into late February and start the same game over again as last year ... being accused (of) not having enough time,” he said.
Mauricette said scheduling the vote on a Thursday was legal but she had been advised by the Secretary of State’s office that it was unusual and she was concerned it would be confusing for voters.
“I think this whole process has been confusing,” Patterson replied.
On Oct. 23, voters approved two questions that would have allowed the School Board to close the North Bennington Graded School and lease it to a board of trustees who would open an independent school called the Village School of North Bennington.
Both votes were close with the first, asking for permission to close the school, passing by 26 votes, 294-268 and the second, asking for permission to lease to a new entity, passing by 47 votes, 304-257. The first question passed with 52.3 percent and the second with 54 percent.
However, on Nov. 13, Mauricette received petitions with about 130 signatures asking for a reconsideration. By Nov. 16, she confirmed that 84 signatures, the number required to call for a revote, were from registered voters.
Voters also approved the school closure by a stronger majority in March but that vote included language that would have closed the school at the end of the 2011-12 school year. Without permission to open the independent school and the current school year approaching, the board decided to keep the public school open at least another year.
Supporters of the independent school say they believe the state will eventually force them to close the school or merge it with another school and that if enrollment declines, voters could begin to reject school budgets that would have to increase. Supporters of the public school say they want to keep a publicly elected board and open, public meetings.