North Bennington hoping the SVSU will cut its bill
By Patrick McArdle
STAFF WRITER | March 26,2013
BENNINGTON — As they prepare for the transition from a public school to an independent school, officials are asking the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union to reduce their assessment because they believe they will need fewer services, but members of the supervisory union’s school board seemed wary of the request Monday.
At a meeting Monday of a special subcommittee of the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union or SVSU School Board, two members of North Bennington’s School Board, which is called the North Bennington Prudential Committee, explained the request they would make to the full SVSU School Board on Wednesday night.
Glenn Chaney, a member of the North Bennington School Board, said its members hoped the SVSU School Board would support a system whereby the staff at the central office of the supervisory union, would bill North Bennington on a per diem basis for services. Chaney said the advantage of the system would be that North Bennington would not pay for services it didn’t receive and the supervisory union would not perform services for which it wasn’t paid.
Officials in North Bennington are planning to close the North Bennington Graded School at the end of the current school year and reopen the site and the building as the Village School of North Bennington for the 2013-14 school year.
However, they’ve promised North Bennington residents they won’t make the transition unless they can do it within the $2.3 million budget voters approved on Town Meeting Day.
One method of doing that would be to cut the assessment charged by the SVSU to North Bennington which is supposed to reflect North Bennington’s share of the supervisory union’s costs. As a district without a public school, known as a “non-operating district,” North Bennington School Board members say they shouldn’t be responsible for some of the traditional costs like payroll or technology which they will now handle in-house.
But North Bennington, by Vermont law, must belong to a supervisory union, and they still face about $99,000 in administrative costs.
There are some complications to reducing North Bennington’s assessment. While voters don’t approve the SVSU budget directly, its costs, which come primarily from its responsibility for providing special education services, are added to the individual school districts and passed by voters indirectly when voters approve a school budget.
The assessment was approved as it is, therefore, in Pownal, Shaftsbury, Woodford, the towns served by Mount Anthony Union’s middle and high school and even by North Bennington. But the school budget was defeated in Bennington and some Bennington School Board members have also talked about going back to the SVSU to look for cuts that could be made to its budget.
Raymond Mullineaux, chairman of the School Board in North Bennington, said on Monday that his district wasn’t looking for a reduction in its assessment which could be passed on to the other districts. He said his board members believe that because they will need less services, the SVSU should be able to reduce its expenses.
However, there were some agreements raised on Monday that because what North Bennington was doing, in moving from a public to an independent school, was new ground, there might be unforeseen costs involved in making the transition.
Chaney suggested that the SVSU might consider cutting the $99,000 in administrative costs in half. He said that while that idea had not been approved by his board, he thought the resulting assessment would be fair. Chaney also pointed out that the request would be one-time only and a better plan could be worked out for next year.
While none of the suggestions were formally recommended by the committee that met on Monday, the full SVSU board, which will meet at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday at Mount Anthony Union Middle School, could approve one of the approaches to cutting North Bennington’s assessment even without a recommendation.