Tuesday November 6, 2012

DAWSON RASPUZZI

Staff Writer

BENNINGTON -- Despite voter authorization to close North Bennington Graded School to give way to the independent Village School of North Bennington last month, the state Board of Education will not approve the independent school’s application this month.

A petition seeking a revote has been circulating since Oct. 24 -- the day after district residents approved authorizing the Prudential Committee close the school and lease the building to the VSNB by just 26 votes. Those in support of the public school have until Nov. 23 to return the petition that would force another vote on the issue if it garners signatures from 5 percent of registered voters -- 82 people.

With the potential that voters may be asked to cast ballots one more time, Chairman Stephan Morse said the state board will not take up the issue at its Nov. 13 meeting.

On Oct. 24 Morse said he did not suspect the VSNB application would be approved while there is still potential for a revote. By Monday, Morse had spoken with members of the board and Department of Education, and the consensus was to keep the application off the agenda as long as there remains the possibility of a revote.

"I have had conversations with people in the department and the board, and we are pretty much all in agreement," Morse said.


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The state board tabled the application in August citing an intent to allow district residents the opportunity to weigh in prior to giving its approval because the board did not want it to appear the state board was endorsing the change. Morse said the thinking still holds true if there is a possibility the town will have to vote again on the issue.

Eva Sutton, co-chairwoman for the Village School of North Bennington, said Monday she is still hopeful the state board will approve the application next week after a validation of the vote was sent to the DOE Oct. 26.

If the board does not approve the application the trustees may consider legal action, which they threatened after the application was tabled in August. At that time, Erin Gallivan, of the Rutland law firm Meub, Gallivan and Larson, presented a letter to the board and DOE stating that the board statutorily must approve the application.

"The statute is clear and unambiguous regarding what the Board of Education may consider when reviewing an independent school application for approval, and leaves no room to consider other issues," Gallivan wrote. "The statute provides no authority to ‘table’ an application based on the actions of a local public school district."

Sutton said if the application is not approved in November, all options regarding how the VSNB will proceed will be on the table. Sutton reiterated previous statements that she does not believe the state board has met their statutory obligation, and if they fail to approve the application next week they would once again be failing to do so.

The state board first tabled an application from VSNB in May, which alleviated the possibility of opening this school year. At that time, the board had concerns the application did not include a special education plan. Members also raised philosophical concerns with the proposed change.

Morse said the process has been delayed multiple times because the state board needs to ensure all of the steps have been followed, which he said is it’s responsibility.

"When we’ve postponed it or tabled it, it’s because something on the local level has not been taken care of yet. Once everything is complete and voters approve it, the law says we shall approve it and I’m sure we will at that time," he said.

Joyce Scarey, one of the residents who began circulating the petition asking for a revote, said Monday copies of the petition are still circulating. Scarey said she is unsure how many signatures it has or when it will be handed in, but she said it is "going great" and a lot of people are showing support for a revote.

Contact Dawson Raspuzzi at draspuzzi@benningtonbanner.com or follow on Twitter @DawsonRaspuzzi.