Thursday November 8, 2012

DAWSON RASPUZZI

Staff Writer

NORTH BENNINGTON -- School officials were mum Wednesday regarding two items on tonight’s North Bennington Prudential Committee agenda involving the transfer of funds left to the district by the late Ethel McCullough Scott.

The funds possibly would be spent relative to replacing the public graded school with an independent one.

Following her death in 2000, "Babs" Scott left the North Bennington Graded School District approximately $135,000 to be "expended for the enhancement of the district at the discretion of the school board after consultation with the principal and not to be used for reduction of taxes or other equivalent tax relief," according to her will.

Over the years, trust funds have been spent on capital improvements in the music room a few years ago and enrichment activities for students. Last fiscal year, nearly $10,000 was spent to research and promote closing the public school and leasing the building to the proposed Village School of North Bennington.

According to financial statements, the district spent about $8,500 from the trust on legal fees and another $1,000 on postage and printing, which included covering costs of mailings sent to residents to inform them of the benefits of an independent school model verses a public model.

Even with the trust fund withdrawals, district Treasurer Gail Mauricette said Wednesday the trust still has $138,000 remaining in it due to interest accrued.


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Now, it appears, up to $35,000 may be spent to further the transition process to an independent school, which voters narrowly supported at a special vote last month.

Tonight’s agenda includes, "Authorization to transfer $10,000 from the trust/gift account to the general fund" and, "Authorization to transfer a $25,000 gift to the Village School of North Bennington."

Reached Wednesday, Prudential Committee Chairman Raymond Mullineaux refused to speak to the agenda prior to the meeting.

"We’ll be talking about it tomorrow and if they (the public) want to come ask questions then they can," Mullineaux said.

Eva Sutton, co-chairwoman of the VSNB Board of Trustees, responded in an e-mail Wednesday that she was too busy at work to answer questions.

Mauricette said she has some concerns about the board’s intentions with the trust funds, particularly gifting $25,000 to the Village School.

"My concern is that transferring funds to the independent Village School may be outside the intended use of this trust," she said. "As treasurer, I intend to request that the Prudential Committee provide a legal opinion supporting this transaction and a possible opinion from the Probate Court."

Richard Pembroke, chief financial officer for Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union, said he has heard questions raised over giving trust funds to the Village School although the supervisory union has not spent considerable time looking into the matter.

"We need to closely look at the trust and find out and determine if this is a qualifiable expense under the restrictions of the gift," Pembroke said.

Mullineaux said the basic intent of the trust funds are "to enhance the district but not on something that would otherwise be done with taxpayer money."

Questions have been raised about what will happen to the status of two school improvement bonds if the public school is closed, which Mullineaux said prior to the Oct. 23 school district vote would require bond counsel from out of state to answer. Mullineaux said taxpayer money would not be used to get those opinions and the Prudential Committee has also said it will not support closing the public school if it would mean higher taxes.

Tonight’s meeting will be held at the NBGS library at 5:15 p.m. following a 15-minute reception to recognize Sutton for her tenure as a Prudential Committee member and the work she did as chairwoman of the committee that studied changing to an independent school model.

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