BENNINGTON -- An independent school application from the Village School of North Bennington will go before the state Board of Education for a second time next week.
In May the state board tabled an application calling for the school to open in place of the public North Bennington Graded School this fall, but a revised application now anticipates for the independent school opening in the fall of 2013.
The state board put off the first application after raising numerous concerns about the application, including a plan for special education, not having seen a lease agreement until the day before the meeting, and philosophical questions about "privatizing a public school."
State board Chairman Stephan Morse said Monday the new application also raises questions.
"There is still an issue whether the application is complete. I know it’s on the agenda now, but some board members still have concerns," Morse said.
At the heart of those concerns are issues with special education and the lack of public approval.
The most recent application submitted in July calls for the village school to employ its own special educators, although there are also ongoing discussions with Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union to provide special education services. Eva Sutton, co-chairwoman of the VSNB Board of Trustees, who could not be reached Monday, said at the time the application was submitted that using SVSU services is a backup plan.
Morse said he has questions about the change in how special education is now expected to be delivered and about the discussions with SVSU.
"I am, at least, confused about how they intend to approach special education," he said.
The other potential conflict that could stall the process is that voters of the school district have not yet given approval to close the public school and lease the building to the VSNB next school year. In March voters approved those measures specific to this fall, but because the school is now expected to open next fall the voters will have to vote again.
"They have submitted this application without the approval of the voters. The voters voted at Town Meeting to do this starting September 2012 and the new application is for 2013," Morse said.
If everything else were all set with the application, Mark Oettinger, general counsel for the Vermont Department of Education, said the state board could approve the application subject to local approval, or the state board may delay approving the application until after a local vote.
In May some board members made clear they would not support the application until the board first had a philosophical conversation about allowing public schools to close and give way to independent or private schools. Morse said those concerns should not play a factor in a decision.
"I fully understand the philosophical questions in this issue; however, under the law Section 166 makes very clear when an application is complete and there are no outstanding issues the board shall approve private (or independent) schools," Morse said.
The new application will be treated completely separate from the previous one. Morse expects the board will again take testimony from members of the public with an opinion on the matter.
"I would certainly hope that anybody in North Bennington that has a position on this, especially the school board, would appear if the application is complete," Morse said.
This month’s state board meeting will be held Aug. 21 at Stowe High School. The village school application is listed as the sixth "action item" on the state board agenda. Action items are expected to be taken up at 1 p.m.
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