North Bennington school request to be heard Tuesday
By Patrick McArdle
STAFF WRITER | January 14,2013
NORTH BENNINGTON — The application to create the Village School of North Bennington is scheduled to be heard Tuesday and is expected to be a major step forward in replacing the public North Bennington Graded School with the independent Village School.
The application is on the agenda of the Vermont Board of Education for their Tuesday meeting in Montpelier.
Stephan Morse, chairman of the State Board, said he didn’t expect there will be many questions left about the application so he thinks any presentation by the Vermont Department of Education will be brief.
Morse said he would be in favor of approving the creation of the school. By Vermont law, an independent school can’t be created unless it’s supported by the board of education.
“I know that not everyone agrees with it so I don’t know where it will go, but personally I think it’s time for us to support it and be done with it,” he said.
Eva Sutton, one of the trustees for the Village School and a former member of the School Board in North Bennington, said she plans to attend the meeting with others who support the independent school to answer any questions if necessary.
Sutton said she was optimistic the application would move forward because it has been recommended by the Department of Education and supported by the community in three separate votes.
The School Board, known as the North Bennington Prudential Committee, has been talking publicly about the possibility of replacing the public school with an independent school for almost two years. Based on the recommendation of an independent school investigatory study, or ISIS, committee, of which Sutton was a member, the local School Board has identified the creation of an independent school as the way to preserve North Bennington’s local school.
While voters gave the School Board permission to close the school, supporters say the independent school will keep the special qualities that people in the village treasure and prevent the state from closing the school or forcing it to merge with another institution. State law does not allow for a school to be closed or combined with another school without local voter approval.
Voters approved ballot items at three different elections which would have allowed the School Board to close the school and enter into agreements to allow the independent school to operate at the same site. During the first, at school meeting in 2012, the support was better than two-to-one, but in the follow-up votes in October and on Jan. 3, the question passed with about 52 percent of the vote.
The second two votes were required after the Vermont Board of Education tabled the application to create the independent school at its meeting in May. Some members raised concerns about replacing public schools with private schools.
The votes in October and January were required as a demonstration that residents still supported the change to the school.
Morse said he will allow anyone from North Bennington to speak for or against the independent school at Tuesday’s meeting. He said he expected a vote would then take place in open session.
Morse said what’s happening in North Bennington, the closure of a public school with the intent of turning the building and its facilities into an independent school, had only been done on one other occasion with the creation of the Mountain School in Winhall. He said he thought legislators may take up the issue in the current session because other schools have expressed interest in pursuing a similar change.
“If that’s the case then I think the legislation needs to be looked at to see if this is, from a public policy point of view, the way the state wants to go,” he said.