Public meeting on Mountain School purchase
By Patrick McArdle
STAFF WRITER | March 25,2013
WINHALL — The Mountain School, an independent school that serves students from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade, has made an agreement with the town and the Winhall School Board to buy its building and the land on which it is sited, but the agreement must be approved by voters who will weigh in April 2.
At 7 p.m. today there will be a public information meeting at the school during which Charles Scranton, chairman of the school’s board of trustees, and Daren Houck, head of school for the Mountain School, will make presentations and answer questions.
The sale of the school, if approved by voters, is expected to give the Winhall School Board $700,000 which can be used in the future to reduce property taxes. The sale would also mean under the agreement that the school would continue to be a community center and public meeting place.
During town meeting, both the floor meeting and voting take place at the school and this practice would continue.
Scranton, who has been on the board for five years, said the purchase of the school building and grounds by the Mountain School has been a longtime goal because of the long-term plans for the school to “control our own destiny,” he said.
“We expect as enrollment increases and so does our desire to improve programs, that has facilities implications. It’s hard to imagine going out and raising money for a facility that we don’t own,” he said.
Scranton said that any facilities improvements, as well as the purchase of the school and grounds, would be done through private philanthropy and not through student tuition. Area residents would recognize the policy as the same one used by Burr and Burton Academy, where Scranton was the previous headmaster, which also raises all money for building construction and upgrade through fundraising.
The Mountain School has made an agreement with the school district to keep its tuition increases over the next three years at less than 3 percent as a condition of the sale.
“To me, it’s a win-win. There are no tax consequences of the purchase and the advantage, to the town, of expanding the facility through private philanthropy just makes sense,” Scranton said.
Houck said the sale was important educationally because the Mountain School is operating beyond its capacity to offer programs to students.
“We’re teaching in little nooks and crannies. We have a commitment to keep our classes to a minimum of 15 kids or less per class, which we’ve done — we’re about 12 kids in a class — but with the programs that we continue to expand as the school grows, we’re just out of space,” he said.
Houck pointed out the school needed to expand just to meet its current goals, but he also wanted the space for the Mountain School, which is celebrating its 15th anniversary this year, to grow for the next 15 years. The school already lacks a full-size gymnasium and science laboratories and the art and music teachers share a classroom, although both programs are expected to expand for the 2013-14 school year.
Winhall is one of the few municipalities in Bennington County which still transacts almost all business, except for election of officers, from the floor at its town and school meeting. Similarly, voters will be asked to approve from the floor the sale of the building and the grounds, which will be two separate questions. If both are not approved, the project will not move forward.
The vote will take place at 7 p.m. April 2, also at the school. Scranton said he and Houck would also be attending that meeting to provide information and answer questions.