NBGS closure question going to third ballot Jan. 3

BENNINGTON - Voters will be asked for a third time on Jan. 3 whether they wish to authorize the Prudential Committee to close the public elementary school and lease the building to the independent Village School of North Bennington.

The Prudential Committee set the re-vote date Tuesday morning, one week after a petition signed by about 130 residents asking for a reconsideration vote was submitted to the North Bennington Graded School district clerk. The reconsideration vote will ask the same two questions that passed by 26 and 47 votes on Oct. 23. Because a petition with more than the required 84 signatures was returned within 30 days after the vote, the Prudential Committee is required to hold another special vote. In order to overturn the board authorization to close the Graded School and lease the building a majority of voters must vote against the articles - and at least two-thirds the number of people who voted in favor of the articles in October must vote against them this time around. The question to lease the building passed by a wider margin than closing the school, even though the two questions are related, on a vote of 304-257. Therefore, in order to overturn that question at least 202 voters will have to vote against leasing the building, and fewer people must vote in favor. The requirement to have two-thirds the number of people vote in favor of overturning a decision was made law in 2007 so that a considerably smaller number of voters could not overturn a decision made by a larger group. The board's decision to hold the re-voke on Jan. 3, a Thursday, was debated after district Clerk Gail Mauricette recommended the vote be held Jan. 8, a Tuesday. Almost all elections in the state of Vermont are held on Tuesdays, and Mauricette, as well as Bennington Town Clerk Timothy Corcoran, who was called during the meeting, recommended the vote be on a Tuesday because people are used to Tuesday elections.

The board chose not to take their recommendation, because if the vote were held on Jan. 8 the result would not be certified in time for the Village School's independent school application to be placed on the state Board of Education January agenda for approval. The previous Tuesday is New Year's day.

"If the vote is positive on the eighth, then that (would mean the vote certification would be sent to) the state board beyond their 10-day window to getting it out to their board members, so they won't consider the Village School application until February; and I think we owe it to the Village School and to the community, if the community votes for this, to get this moving as fast as possible," Chairman Raymond Mullineaux said. "My feeling is that we ought to do it in a time frame that allows the fastest approval period as possible."

In addition, the board said it wanted everything settled as early as possible as there are deadlines with teacher contracts and other issues that must be considered.

Nobody on the board raised concerns that people would not vote on a Thursday.

"I think the people who are engaged in this issue are willing to get out and vote," board member Matthew Patterson said.

The board is required to hold the re-vote within 60 days from the time the petition was submitted Nov. 13, and it must be warned between 30 and 40 days prior to the vote. Even though the board approved the warning Tuesday, it will not officially be warned until Oct. 30 in order to meet the deadlines in statute.

The board also discussed having electronic ballot counting machines brought in for the re-vote, which Mauricette estimated may cost about $450. Mauricette said there will also be at least three people working during the vote because on Oct. 23 there were a lot of people asking for clarification of what the articles asked.

Some of that confusion, Mauricette said, was due to signs and mailings that encouraged residents to vote "yes" to "keep the school open," when in fact voting yes was to close the public school. The message put out by those in favor of the independent school have argued that the public school may be forced to close in the future if it does not lease the building to an independent school.

In March voters first authorized the Prudential Committee to close the school and lease the building by more than a two-to-one margin, but because the state board did not approve the Village School's application, the committee chose to keep the public school operating this year. A second district vote on the questions was required in October to being the independent school process again.

State board Chairman Stephan Morse has said the board will approve the independent school application if voters reaffirm their desire to close the public school in January.

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


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