Tuesday January 1, 2013

I am writing this letter to the editor to urge voters in the North Bennington Graded School District to "Vote No" on January 3, 2013, on the question of whether or not to convert the North Bennington Graded School to a private school.

Though many reasons exist to vote no, the primary reason is the complete lack of public oversight the private school will bring to North Bennington. The private school will not disclose annual budgets to voters. The Board of Trustees of the private school will not be elected by the voters and will not answer to voters. School Board meetings will cease to be subject to the Vermont Open Meeting Law and the public (parents, voters, taxpayers) will have no legal right to attend such meetings.

Several recent columns and letters to the editor have falsely stated that the new school will continue to operate with oversight by the North Bennington Prudential Board. This is clearly not the message that has been given at the public information meetings that I have attended. The phrase that has been used at "informational meetings" after the conversion to a private school is that the Prudential Board will become a "non-operating" board. It is difficult for me to understand how a "non-operating board" will provide meaningful public oversight. If the public school is closed and reopened as a private school, the voters of the North Bennington School District will have frittered away the oversight that they now have over the school system.

School systems are among the most complex businesses in Vermont towns and villages often far more complex than the business of running the village or town in which the schools reside. School system budgets are almost always higher than the town or village budget, often two to three times larger. School systems have more employees, often more infrastructure, and almost always, more public exposure.

This is why public oversight of any school system is so important. Those who have written as to how "independent schools represent the Vermont way of life," or similar such words that have been published at least twice in the last two weeks on these pages, forget that it is truly the "Vermont way" that those entrusted by the public to administer their towns and schools remain answerable to those who have elected them.

It amazes me that those we have entrusted management of the North Bennington Graded School now state as a matter of fact that the North Bennington Graded School will close if this change is not made. There is no plan for any such action to occur; in fact, the North Bennington Graded School as it is configured today is larger than at least fifty percent of the other K-6 schools in Vermont and is larger in school population than two other elementary schools in the SVSU. It is consistently rated as one of the premier elementary schools in the state.

Those advocating for the private school have done nearly everything possible to stifle the alternate point of view (to keep the public school open). They have prevented those with expertise from speaking at public meetings (in particular, SVSU officials), and have yet to disclose a firm budget.

Perhaps the time will come in the future when a private school makes sense, but that time is not now. North Bennington School District voters should clearly vote no on January 3.

JASON MORRISSEY

North Bennington