Vote may resolve North Bennington school question
By Patrick McArdle
STAFF WRITER | January 02,2013
NORTH BENNINGTON — The future of the North Bennington Graded School may be settled Thursday when voters will decide whether to give the School Board permission to close the school so it can re-open as the independent Village School of North Bennington.
An informational meeting is scheduled for tonight at 7 in the school’s gymnasium. Voting is scheduled from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday at the village offices at the train station.
Both questions ask voters to give the School Board authorization — the first question in regard to closing the school and the second in regard to leasing the building and its equipment to the independent school.
Members of the School Board, the North Bennington Prudential Committee, support a positive vote on both questions. Raymond Mullineaux, chairman of the School Board, said voters should know that voting yes would not close the public school.
“It vests the authority with the board to (close the school) under certain conditions. One is that (the board members) determine that it’s in the best interests of giving a public education to the children in its district, that it do so by providing their parents a choice. Second is that there be an independent school that would provide parents a strong option for providing a public education to children,” he said.
Proponents of the independent school have pointed out that it will mean “school choice.”
In Vermont, parents who live in a town without a public school can choose to send their children to another school and the tuition amount provided by the state will go with the child to the chosen school. Parents who live in a town with a public school can still send their children to another school but the parents would be responsible for paying the entire cost of tuition.
Critics have said they want to maintain a public school overseen by an elected board that meets in open session. According to the application submitted by the Village School of North Bennington, members of its board of trustees will be appointed and aren’t required to be from North Bennington.
As an independent school, there would be no requirement for open meetings of the board or the release of a school budget.
Mullineaux said he also believed that changes to education in recent years left him and others with concerns about how long the North Bennington school could remain open as it exists. In Vermont, a public school can’t be closed without approval from voters but Mullineaux said talk of consolidation also has the local School Board concerned.
One issue that has been raised about the change to the school is the future of two separate bonds taken on by the village voters and how the change to an independent school might change the conditions of repayment but Mullineaux said the school board has gotten legal opinions that changes could be made to the bonds’ terms so there wouldn’t be any impact on taxpayers.
At town meeting in 2012, voters approved closing the school but under ballot questions which called for the school to close at the end of the 2011-12 school year. An independent school can’t be created without approval by the Vermont Board of Education and the board tabled action on the application of the Village School in May.
In August, the state School Board asked for another vote on the issue because its members didn’t want to proceed without valid permission from voters. Another vote took place in October but the outcome, while positive, was very close and the question was approved by 26 votes with more than 550 votes cast.
A petition was circulated and received enough signatures to require the reconsideration vote Thursday.
Mullineaux said the School Board members are hoping that if Thursday’s vote is positive, the Vermont Board of Education will act on the independent school application this month.