The residents of North Bennington should not rush to close their public school. No one should have a panic attack over this issue. No one from the state or the SVSU can close your public school. The North Bennington Graded school board knows that.
Your principal, Tom Martin, knows that as well. You the voters are the only ones that can do that. Going to an independent or private school may not be as rewarding as some would make it out to be. Going independent does not guarantee that the student count will go up and costs will come down. The effect could be just the opposite.
Going independent means that a small district like North Bennington will require a lot of outside money to keep your private school doors open. I have heard talk of an endowment to fund this school, although nobody seems to know much about it; but if there is one, how much is in it? If there isn't one, why isn't there one?
The principal and the school board cannot assure you that donations will come into your school on a yearly basis to fund that school. You have a great public school. It has taken years to make that school work well, for the good of the students and the community. Don't throw that away on someone else's whim.
Before you vote on Tuesday, Oct. 23, here are some points to consider: If the vote goes in favor of closing your public school, what happens to the I.D. District's students? Without a public school in North Bennington, those students and the funding may revert to the Shaftsbury school system. That would be the closest public school, and don't think Shaftsbury wouldn't want them. Shaftsbury has more than enough room for them.
The last time I checked there were about 40 students in the I.D. District. If that number is correct, there is about $500,000 in student aid that could go from North Bennington to Shaftsbury.
It has been said by a North Bennington board member that if an independent school fails, you could always go back to a public school. Now come on, folks, do you think the state is going to let you create a new small public school?
The state may not have authority to close your school, but I am sure the state would have a say in creating a new one.
You have to ask yourselves, before you vote either way, why Principal Martin and Darren Houck, the headmaster of The Mountain School in Winhall, who do not live in North Bennington, are pushing for a private school for North Bennington. They certainly have no skin in this game. Neither of these gentlemen will be around to pick up the pieces if this new independent school fails. The residents of North Bennington need more time and information before taking this leap of faith.
Here's another "what if" to add to the list: Let's say you close your small public school and the independent school fails miserably. What have you done to your property values in North Bennington? They certainly won't go up. I thought that your public school system is a large part of what makes North Bennington a great place to raise a family. Are you ready to have that lost?
There is no need to take this type of a gamble now. Please don't rush such an important decision. You should not risk something you can't afford to lose.
Mike Bethel lives in Bennington.