Wednesday November 14, 2012

The closeness of the recent vote in favor of closing North Bennington Graded School and creating an independent school, and now a pending third vote forced by submission of a citizen petition -- along with other factors surrounding this divisive issue -- have darkly clouded what seemed a sure thing just a few short months ago.

In a NBGS vote in March, the district overwhelmingly approved (375-149) the proposal to close the public school and create an independent school to be overseen by a board of trustees. The rationale behind the effort is that it would ensure the school would remain open despite efforts on the state level to encourage district consolidation, and it would preserve the quality of education offered at the Graded School.

However, since that heady moment in March, many voters apparently have had second thoughts and now doubt the wisdom of closing a successful public school and turning the operation over to an unelected board of trustees whose meetings and decisions and other business could be conducted in private.

The state Board of Education has expressed strong doubts about the idea of closing a public school and creating a private one -- considering the possible effects on public schools in the region and the concern other districts would follow the same route, affecting the state's education funding system. Board members postponed action this summer on approval for an independent school, and that necessitated a second set of ballot questions on the issue for NBGS voters in October. That time the approval margin was just 26 votes.

More people voted the second time and some voters said they changed their minds based on new information that has surfaced about the structure of the independent model or various funding concerns.

State Board members also remain skeptical at best about the plan, and it is conceivable they will continue to delay or block formation of an independent school in the village, which could force legal action by the independent school.

So that leaves the NBGS district and North Bennington where? It would seem in a closely divided village, at least pending a third vote on this now very controversial issue. This does not seem at all the overwhelmingly supported slam dunk decision it appeared in the spring.

Based on these facts, voters should consider not only the independent school details themselves but what a decision that seems forced upon nearly half of those voting could mean for the future of the school.

No one faction here should count on support from the other, at least not in the near future. That's something to keep in mind while entering the polls.