BENNINGTON -- Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union officials will discuss their efforts to provide special education services to a proposed independent school next week, after it was publicly suggested they are at fault for delaying an agreement.
Heather Bullock, a parent in the North Bennington School District, told the SVSU board at its June 21 meeting she had serious concerns about the supervisory union’s leadership, because an agreement had not been reached between SVSU and the North Bennington Prudential Committee to provide special education services to the proposed independent Village School of North Bennington. The lack of a special education contract was cited as a reason some members of the State Board of Education did not approve the Village School’s application.
Instead, the state board tabled the application, ultimately resulting in the Village School’s opening being pushed back at least one year and the Prudential Committee delaying the closure of the public school.
At the meeting, Bullock asked for details about what SVSU had done since voters approved the independent school in March and why an agreement had not been met in the following months.
SVSU Chairwoman Sean-Marie Oller told Bullock at that time she was unable to respond in detail to a long list of questions Bullock asked, but agreed to formalize a response including dates that the supervisory union worked on the agreement within a week. Earlier this week -- more than a month after the June meeting -- Bullock wrote in a letter to the Banner that she still has not seen the response she expected by the end of June. In the letter, Bullock questioned whether SVSU is purposely delaying the agreement.
"The tireless efforts of the Village School’s committee have been thwarted time and again by unresponsive state and local political entities who, either by design or unprofessionalism, have placed their own agenda ahead of the needs of students," Bullock wrote.
In an e-mail Oller sent SVSU board members Tuesday, a copy of which she also sent to the Banner, the chairwoman said a response had not been given to Bullock because the board itself is unfamiliar with all the administration has done in an attempt to reach a special education agreement.
"The more I wrote and rewrote a response to her questions, the more I realized the SVSU board was not aware of the time line, the process and the many hours of work that have been done to help with North Bennington’s transitions. My concern with answering Ms. Bullock’s questions directly was the SVSU Board would be reading what has been done second-hand through a response and not directly, and except for North Bennington, for the first time," Oller wrote. "Board members are typically not involved with day to day operations, the business of running a school system, but in this case I felt it necessary for the board to understand what has transpired."
Oller said Wednesday she regrets saying at the meeting she would have a response within a week.
To catch the board and public up, the agenda for the Aug. 2 meeting at Mount Anthony Union Middle School will include time to hear a report on the work administrators have done and to review the response to be sent to Bullock.
Oller also wrote in the e-mail that some accusations made by Bullock are not true, which she said the report will show.
"When you read the report you will see that the accusations made by Ms. Bullock are untrue especially with regard to legality and responsibility. As many of you know special education is layered with complexities as well as state and federal mandates, it is not a simple matter, as suggested. The SVSU central office staff has and will continue to act responsibly, the report will document this," Oller wrote.
The report, which will not be complete until next week when Superintendent Catherine McClure returns from vacation, will be public once it is finalized, Oller said.
The Aug. 2 meeting was scheduled at the June 21 meeting for the primary purpose of reviewing a proposed special education contract with the North Bennington School District. The negotiations are scheduled even though a revised independent school application submitted by the Village School to the Department of Education earlier this month indicates the Village School plans to provide its own special education instead of contracting it from SVSU.
Eva Sutton, co-chairwoman of the Village School Board of Trustees said earlier this month said contracting special education from SVSU is still being considered as a back up plan in case the DOE does not approve the independent school providing its own services.
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