Tuesday January 8, 2013

DAWSON RASPUZZI

Staff Writer

NORTH BENNINGTON -- After a third positive vote from the community last week, State Board of Education Chairman Stephan Morse is ready to recommend approval of the Village School of North Bennington's independent school application.

Morse, contacted Monday after he and others with the Agency of Education completed the agenda for the Jan. 15 meeting, said the Village School's application that has been in limbo for nine months will be up for approval.

"It is indeed on the agenda," Morse said. "It is a stand-alone item that will be discussed and voted on."

Morse intends to recommend the board approve the Village School's application, saying he believes by statute the board is obligated to approve it even though some members may not agree with the process.

"In my opinion, under the current law, I think now that the voters have had their final say we must adopt it. I can't necessarily tell you that every member feels that way," Morse said.

The state board first had an application from the Village School in front of it last May as the independent school sought approval in time to open in place of the public North Bennington Graded School last fall. The board tabled the application in May because it did not include a special education agreement even though other documents cited a plan that had not been finalized at that point.


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Without approval for the Village School, the Prudential Committee opted to keep NBGS open this school year.

The Village School then submitted a revised application in July. The state board discussed that application in August and again tabled it, that time citing a desire not to approve the application until voters approved closing NBGS and leasing the building to the Village School.

Voters gave their consent to both questions in October, and then again last week after a petition required a revote.

That approval from the community now puts the independent school application back before the state board. Officials with the Village School and Prudential Committee said following the Jan. 3 vote that they expect the independent school application to be approved by the state board this time around, which will allow transition planning to move forward.

Education Secretary Armando Vilaseca has yet to make a public recommendation to the board. According to August meeting minutes Vilaseca recommended if the board were to vote on the application they approve it contingent upon the electorate vote. Supporting information for the Jan. 15 meeting, which may include a recommendation from Vilaseca, will be made public today on the AOE website.

When the state board tabled the Village School application in May members raised philosophical concerns about "privatizing a public school," but according to statute the state board must approve an independent school application that meets certain criteria.

In the fall the board discussed at length recommending legislative changes to the process of creating an independent school to replace a public school. Members of the board said they do not believe the law outlining the process and mandating state board approval when the process is met was written with the expectation that a community would create a private or independent school to replace a public institution.

"I think there is a general consensus that the section of the statute needs to be reviewed to address situations like North Bennington. It was definitely written for other types of situations," Morse said. "But (current legislation) applies here and we'll use it."

Morse said he is unsure when the board will continue the discussion of recommending legislative changes, but any future changes to law would not impact the Village School's application.

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