BENNINGTON -- Following a long executive session Thursday, the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union Board agreed to provide special education services to the proposed independent Village School of North Bennington.
The agreement still must be approved by the public North Bennington Prudential Committee as well as the VSNB board of trustees before it is final. Until all three parties approve the contract it is considered classified.
Whether there is a need for the contract remains to be seen. The VSNB's most recent application to the state Department of Education for independent school approval calls for providing special education in-house. When the application was submitted, contracting special education services from the SVSU was a backup plan.
Prior to the 90-minute executive session, the SVSU distributed a report outlining the more than 60 hours spent by administrators working toward a special education agreement.
The report, which includes dates and estimated times dedicated to the topic, was in response to a public accusation by North Bennington resident Heather Bullock that the SVSU has not done enough and may be intentionally delaying an agreement. The report makes clear it is not SVSU's responsibility to provide special education services to an independent school.
"A supervisory union is charged with providing special education services for eligible students who reside in its member school districts and that operate public schools ... in the case of a non-operating school district (which North Bennington would become if the public school were closed) the supervisory union is responsible to ensure that those eligible students residing in the non-operating public school district are provided with a free and appropriate public education at no cost to the parent and paid for by the non-operating public school district," it states.
The lack of a special education agreement has been cited by some State Board of Education members as a reason the independent school application was tabled on May 15, which ultimately pushed back the VSNB's intended fall 2012 opening at least one year.
The report indicates administrators have spent time working on the transition of closing North Bennington Graded School since January -- two months before voters gave the public board permission to close NBGS and to lease the building to the independent school. The report also shows SVSU officials were not contacted about the possibility of providing special education services to the independent school until April 10, more than a month after the vote.
The two groups did not meet until April 27 to discuss special education for the first time, but on April 23 confirmation was sent by the VSNB to the Department of Education stating that SVSU would be providing special education to the independent school.
The day prior to meeting with VSNB representatives, on April 26, SVSU received a copy of the proposed agreement, which was the same template used by another school.
On May 3, SVSU administrators discussed a second draft of the proposal, and on May 7 and May 8 draft numbers three and four were discussed respectively.
The report also states that Ray Mullineaux sent an e-mail to administrators accusing SVSU of stalling the process since January, which was talked about by administrators briefly on May 5.
The first time the special education draft was presented to the executive committee of the SVSU school board was May 24 when the agreement was in its fifth draft form.
Thursday was the first opportunity for the full SVSU to discuss the proposal. Following that discussion behind closed doors, the board voted 12-2 to allow legal counsel and administrators to negotiate the proposal with the other boards.
In addition to the report, a letter in response to Bullock from SVSU Chairwoman Sean-Marie Oller was also distributed at Thursday's meeting. Among other things, the letter addresses why the process has taken the time it has.
"Special education is layered with complexities as well as state and federal mandates ... Agreements or contracts are legally binding and must be vetted. The Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union school board owes the citizens in all five towns it represents the due diligence that is expected," the letter states.
The letter also says that SVSU and the Prudential Committee both want "an agreement that serves taxpayers, voters and, most importantly, students well."
Bullock was not at Thursday's meeting and could not be reached Friday. Because the report was not available prior to the meeting, Oller said anyone who had questions would be able to ask them at the Aug. 23 meeting.
Contact Dawson Raspuzzi at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @DawsonRaspuzzi