NORTH BENNINGTON --The North Bennington Prudential Committee has warned an Oct. 23 ballot that will ask voters two questions regarding the closure of North Bennington Graded School and leasing the building to an independent school.
If both articles pass during the special vote, the last step will be for the State Board of Education to approve an application from the proposed independent Village School of North Bennington. The state board has agreed to take up the application at its next meeting following the vote, which will be in November.
The first question voters is "Shall the North Bennington Graded School District Prudential Committee be authorized to close the North Bennington Graded School prior to July 1, 2013, and to provide for the elementary education of the pupils residing in the district by paying tuition in accordance with law to one or more public elementary schools in one or more school districts at the Prudential Committee's choosing, or to an approved independent elementary school, or to independent schools meeting school quality standards."
The second question states, "Shall the North Bennington Graded School District be authorized to contract with and lease the North Bennington Graded School real property and all of its other operational assets to an approved independent nonresidential elementary school for educational purposes for a period of more than three years?"
Both questions must be approved in order for the Prudential Committee to close the public school. Prudential Committee attorney Joseph O'Dea drafted the ballot questions with feedback from officials with the Department of Education, Secretary of State's office and Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union's attorney.
Voters approved similar questions in March concerning the transition to take place this summer, but the Village School did not receive approval from the state board so the public Prudential Committee opted not to close NBGS prior to school year. Because the previous ballot questions were specific to this summer, the questions must be asked again specific to next school year.
Prudential Committee Chairman Raymond Mullineaux said the opinion of the board has not wavered since the previous time voters approved the idea of replacing the public school with an independent one by a two-to-one margin.
"I believe this board has always tried to be about the education of students in North Bennington (and kept that as) our primary concern. We take this step in part because of our belief that it's a very good thing for this community for education to continue in this building and it is our belief that this is a good way for us to move forward in the future," Mullineaux said. "In fact, the voters agreed with us back in March and because of the state board requesting this action on our part in order to approve the Village School application we are once again revisiting the issue ... the facts are out there and we speak to the people and tell them what our case is; we hope that will be the result again.
Other than going back and forth with minor word changes there was little discussion at Tuesday's special Prudential Committee meeting about the potential change. Included in the audience were members of the Village School's Board of Trustees and other supporters of the independent school.
Resident Heather Bullock was the only resident who addressed the upcoming vote, saying she believes those in attendance Tuesday represent the majority in the school district.
"There's still tremendous support for this. We've had a lot of feedback and people are excited to vote," Bullock told the board.
A special floor meeting will be held at 7 p.m. Oct. 22 at the school gymnasium to discuss the articles. The polls will be open the following day at the Village Office from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Anyone in the school district of voting age who is not registered to vote has until Oct. 17 to register in time to cast a ballot the following week.
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