Friday May 10, 2013

ZEKE WRIGHT

Staff Writer

NORTH BENNINGTON -- Counting down the days until the district becomes non-operational, the North Bennington Graded School Prudential Committee approved retirements and layoff notices for teaching staff employed under union contract.

The expectation and hope is most of the staff will apply for jobs at The Village School of North Bennington, the independent school district that replaces the NBGS come July 1.

Prudential Committee members also discussed the continuing process of developing lease and tuition agreements with the Village School at their meeting Wednesday. As the NBGS will continue as a non-operational district and lease its building to the Village School, subcommittees of the two districts’ boards will need to complete those agreements before spending plans for fiscal year 2014 can be considered final.

Included in separate resolutions were a motion to accept the retirements of four long-time teachers at NBGS, Virginia Albro, Patricia Gibbons, Nelle Knapp, and Denise Sklepowicz, and a motion for a Reduction in Force affecting nine additional staff.

The decision to retire or be laid off was made on an individual basis depending on contributions to the state retirement system and other employment options, should they choose to look for them, according to Prudential Committee Chairman Raymond Mullineaux.

Mullineaux expressed appreciation for staff members’ terms of service and said the step was a necessary part of the transition. "We’re at the end and the beginning," he said.

Retirees were paid severance commensurate with their collective bargaining agreement. The Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union filed RIF notices last month affecting paraprofessionals employed by the supervisory union who worked in North Bennington. Other staff are employed under individual contracts.

The newly announced head of the Village School when it opens next fall, NBGS Principal Thomas Martin said Thursday that hiring decisions would need to begin to be made by the independent school in the coming weeks.

"I’ve been talking to them," Martin said, to gauge what staff is interested in continuing in the school building under the new model.

There is some time constraint given the planning process already underway for next year. "We’re in that window," Martin said, where students and parents are interested in teacher and classroom assignments for the fall.

While the Village School plans to seek applicants, Martin said two variables in determining "true vacancies" next fall include student enrollment and the number of interested NBGS staff.

"We’ve said all along what makes North Bennington a special place is the people who work here." At the same time, teachers need a "sense of ownership" in the new system, which Martin said staff already had with NBGS.

"It’s a different way of thinking about what you do. ... The basis of what’s happening here is that understanding it’s all about people choosing to be here."

District Treasurer Gail Mauricette continued to express doubts the change would be "cost neutral" to taxpayers. In a letter to Prudential Committee members Wednesday, she maintained that tuition and enrollment numbers next fall were being under budgeted and that costs shifted from the NBGS to the Village School would ultimately fall to taxpayers.

"I have never doubted the commitment to provide continued excellent education of our students as a goal of all those involved. But I continue to question the cost and the transparency of this endeavor," Mauricette said, continuing to say the transition to independence had already proved not to be cost neutral by way of $56,000 in legal fees that were paid out of a trust fund.

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