KEITH WHITCOMB JR.
BENNINGTON -- One item that came out of a recent meeting between the town and local school boards that the Bennington School District will explore is the possibility of it going from being an incorporated to being a municipal school district.
BSD Board Chairman Kenneth Swierad, who is a member of the Vermont School Board Association, said he has made inquires about what would change should the district make the switch and what it would take to actually make the change. He said it is not known if there would have to be a public vote, an act of the legislature regarding the school district’s charter, or a vote of the board.
On Aug. 7, representatives from the district, Bennington Select Board, Mount Anthony Union School Board, Southwest Vermont Regional Career Development Center, and Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union met to begin talks on forming a better collaborative relationship amongst each other.
Bennington Town Manager Stuart Hurd said one of the ideas put forward was for the BSD to become a municipal school district, which most districts in Vermont are. This, he said, would allow for greater communication between the town and district, and it would let both boards appear together at Town Meeting Day in March. Right now, Hurd said, the town meetings draw hundreds of people asking about the town budget while the school budget meetings only draw a handful of citizens.
Both Swierad and Hurd said the idea of the district becoming a municipal school is extremely preliminary, as is are the collaboration meetings themselves. Another meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, Hurd said.
Michael Harrington, economic and community development director for Bennington, said the goal of the meetings is to make it so separate entities that have an impact on taxes through their budgets can have a sense of what the other is doing. Currently board are only aware of the budgets after they are complete and warned. He said the hope is by improving communication, each will have a better sense of their impact on the tax base in relation to the other factors.
It took three votes this year for the BSD’s budget to pass. Hurd said for many years the town has deferred maintenance and put off projects because it knows that the school budget will be going up. While many times the increases are not things the school boards can control, he said the cost cutting should not always fall to the town. If all the boards are talking, he said, it is possible one group may choose to cut somewhere if it knows another group is going to have to increase spending. He said they all serve roughly the same group of taxpayers.
Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @KWhitcombjr.