NORTH BENNINGTON — The head of North Bennington’s independent elementary school next fall will be the principal of the former public school, Thomas Martin. The continuation of leadership was to be expected as proponents of the independent school have maintained that current staff would remain largely intact. The announcement was made in a written release Wednesday from Jeb Gorham, a board member of the independent Village School of North Bennington. The Village School is scheduled to begin operations in the same building following the official closure of the North Bennington Graded School on June 30.
Martin said he was “honored and humbled” to be chosen as the first head of school, a top administrative position synonymous with his former title.
“We look forward to building on the many years of outstanding educational service that our school has provided this community for generations,” Martin said. “With the support of a wonderful staff and a visionary community, we are confident this school will continue its tradition of excellence for many years to come.”
Martin has served as elementary principal at the NBGS since 2008. Recently, he served on the Independent School Investigatory Study Committee, a group of Prudential Committee members, school staff, and residents that initially studied and consequently recommended the changeover to an independent school model.
“Tom is an excellent administrator who has been pivotal in maintaining an excellent educational opportunity for children and families in the North Bennington school district,” Village School Chairwoman Eva Sutton said in the release.
“We are thrilled that he will continue to provide leadership to our school community and in our exciting transition to The Village School of North Bennington,” she continued.
The NBGS has been in operation since 1870, but ISIS Committee members said they determined the independent model would better ensure the longterm sustainability of North Bennington’s elementary school.
Formally founded last year, the Village School is described as an “independent, coeducational, kindergarten through grade 6 school committed to active, reflective, creative learning through the combined effort of staff, students, parents, and the community.”
Martin has more than 35 years of experience in education in New York and Vermont. A graduate of St. Lawrence University, he began his career as a social studies teacher and athletics coach. Martin then served two years as elementary principal and 15 years as high school principal at Schuylerville (N.Y.) Central School.
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Friday April 12, 2013
NORTH BENNINGTON -- With opposition voiced by some in the community at every step toward replacing North Bennington’s public school with an independent one over the past two years, it was no surprise a last ditch effort was made before the board
put the final nail in the school’s coffin Thursday.
It was also no surprise the Prudential Committee, as has been true with every step before, did not waiver in its belief that independence is the optimal -- if not only -- way to sustain the school that has felt the pains of ever increasing costs even as enrollment has declined in recent years.
With that belief, the board was unanimous in its vote to close North Bennington Graded School on June 30 and to lease the building to the independent Village School of North Bennington, which will employ the same staff and educate the same students when school picks back up in the fall. The independent model, the board believes, is more sustainable because of its ability to attract tuitioning children from out-of-district and privately fundraise.
With voter approval narrowly given in October -- and then again in January after a revote was petitioned -- and the state’s OK of the Village School in January, the final hurdle standing in the way of the Prudential Committee was jumped Thursday with assurance the transition will not raise costs next school year. Budgets presented in January showed an additional expense of more than $100,000 if the district did not operate a school next year, but that difference was erased in a revised budget presented Thursday.
The biggest reductions come from cutting the contingency nearly in half from $75,000 to $40,000, working out a deal with teachers to avoid paying about $45,000 in severance, eliminating the $13,000 contribution to the building sinking fund, and eliminating the $10,000 for building repairs.
The reductions were questioned by district Treasurer Gail Mauricette, who has expressed concerns regarding the entire process the board has taken.
"If you thought it was necessary in the operating budget to put repairs of $10,000 and sinking fund of $13,000 and contingency of $75,000, why did you not feel that it was necessary in the non-operating budget?" she asked.
Principal Thomas Martin explained reducing repair line items makes sense because the Village School will enter into a triple net lease and take responsibility for certain building expenses. Chairman Raymond Mullineaux also said the district has $26,000 in its building sinking fund that can be tapped if needed.
The teachers contract includes language entitling them to a severance if they are laid off, as they will be with the closure of the public school before the Village School hires them, however Martin said teachers agreed to allow that benefit to be paid by the Village School after the public school closes.
Mauricette raised a more serious concern that the budget that was built with the expectation of paying tuition for 116 students, which appears to be a low projection. The public school currently has 121 students, according to Martin, and 17 kindergartners already identified may enroll next year to replace 18 sixth graders moving out. If five more students from the district attend the independent school than budgeted -- with the Village School’s tuition rate being just under $13,000 -- the district will be responsible for paying an unanticipated $65,000.
According to projections, the public school’s projected enrollment for the fall was 123. The district will also be responsible to pay tuition for children in the district who currently attend private schools, which would be additional expenses that do not appear to be budgeted for.
Mauricette asked why the board does not budget tuition payments for more students.
"You have an actual number, and wouldn’t it be better to base it on that rather than some hypothetical number that was projected in 2012?" Mauricette asked.
Instead of considering the recommendation, the board tried to explain that the budget was formed at a time when the school had 116 students and enrollment may continue to fluctuate; making it impossible to guess how many students will be there in the fall.
"Though it will probably turn out that the 116 number will not be exactly correct for next year, I think it is presumptuous for us to assume the 123 number is the number we’ll be dealing with next September," said Bruce Lierman.
Members of the board also explained it is the same guessing game the board would play if the school were public; however, Mauricette pointed out because tuition must be paid for each student in a non-operating district, it is tremendously different.
"If you have an increase in students in a public school they just come and take a desk, but for a tuition (paying district) you’re going to have to come up with tuition for those extra students," Mauricette said. "I’m just a little bit concerned that there are more students than actually budgeted for."
Mauricette compared what North Bennington is doing to what happened in Winhall -- the only other Vermont town to close its public school and open an independent one -- which under estimated its enrollment many years in a row and ended up in debt more than $500,000 because of it.
Mullineaux and others on the board then tried to explain it is actually a good thing if more students move to the district in the long-term, even if that means the district is left deficit spending.
"If any of this (higher enrollment) comes about, it will be to the benefit of the district ultimately, because those children will be in our equalized pupil count and they will reduce our tax rate. It’s a short-term difficulty," he said.
Following the unanimous vote, both Mullineaux and a parent in the audience, Heather Bullock, said they hope the community can now come together and support the school.
"We are so lucky and blessed to live in this community and I look forward to us all healing as a community and moving forward together to continue this wonderful community we live in and this wonderful school," Bullock said.
Following the meeting, Eva Sutton, co-chairwoman of the Village School, said she was happy to see a resolution to the process she has been involved in for years, beginning as a member of the Prudential Committee.
"It’s very exciting," Sutton said. The Village School has already formed a 10-person board of trustees and Sutton said the next step will be continuing to prepare for the fall opening by making strategic decisions and allocating resources.
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Published: Mar 29, 2013, 1:00 AM
Updated: Mar 28, 2013, 10:26 PM
Friday March 29, 2013
BENNINGTON -- Representatives from neighboring school districts thwarted two attempts by North Bennington Graded School District to lower its supervisory union assessment Wednesday in the event it closes its public school this summer.
The first motion made by the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union board asked for a 50 percent reduction to North Bennington’s $99,000 administrative assessment -- which includes costs related to personnel, administrative salaries, curriculum and other items. The second motion would have eliminated North Bennington’s $24,000 curriculum assessment only. Both motions were rejected 8-2, with the only two votes in favor coming from North Bennington’s representatives on the 12-member board.
The requests were made with the belief that a school district that does not operate a school will not require many of the services North Bennington is now being billed a portion of.
"The administrative services line item, which in our case was $99,000 and change, should (be) decreased when we’re in a non-operating district versus an operating district because it includes things like personnel -- keeping in mind we won’t have any people working for us ... (and) curriculum development, professional development, payroll, ... and cost for negotiations," Glenn Chaney, a North Bennington Prudential Committee member, explained to the SVSU board.
North Bennington representative Raymond Mullineaux said a reduction to North Bennington’s assessment would not require costs to increase in other districts if administration were asked to underspend by $49,000 the fiscal year 2014 budget the board approved in January.
That thinking was refuted by SVSU Chief Financial Officer Richard Pembroke. Districts in the supervisory union are assessed administrative costs based on the percent of students they account for. In North Bennington’s case, they have 3.77 percent of the students, so they pay 3.77 percent of the cost. If North Bennington were going to pay less than their share, Pembroke said, other districts would have to pick up the slack.
"You’d have to cut $1.3 million (of the total budget) to give them the $49,000 they’re requesting without costing the other districts any money. Otherwise, if you just cut that $49,000 ... someone else has to pick it up," Pembroke said. "For every dollar that North Bennington doesn’t pay the district, someone else has to pay for that ... there is no incremental savings in the SU for 3.77 percent of a reduction. I can’t take 3.77 percent of someone in the HR department and say don’t come one hour on the fourth Thursday."
After the first motion was rejected, a motion was recommended by Chairwoman Sean-Marie Oller, of Bennington, to vote on excusing North Bennington from its assessment for curriculum services. Had the motion passed it would have added $24,000 to the other five districts in the supervisory union, according to a projection by Pembroke.
Members of the SVSU board from the other districts said they opposed increases to their own assessments by allowing North Bennington to pay less. Many said they were sympathetic to North Bennington’s position; however, they were hesitant to approve a reduction for a single district because the SVSU budget was already approved.
"I have personally been a strong supporter of your move forward; however, one, we do have a problem in timing here ... the budgets for the next school year have already been set," said Avis Bruce-Hurley, of Woodford. "In the future, if everything goes forward for North Bennington, you will not be using the full services of the (supervisory union) ... knowing this coming in in the future, I think it would only be proper that we would have to make an adjustment."
The board agreed it makes sense to track what services North Bennington uses next school year, if it does in fact close its public school, and base their assessment on that data for fiscal year 2015.
The North Bennington board has yet to officially decide to close the public school and lease the building to the independent Village School of North Bennington, which the board was given authority to do by voters and, itself, supports.
One of the final roadblocks in the transition is a promise the board made to the community not to close the public school if it will cost more to tuition students. In order to make the change cost neutral, the Prudential Committee must find about $100,000 in reductions to its non-operating budget, according to previous budget drafts. Voters have approved a spending amount identified in an operating budget; however, there are additional, one-time costs associated with closing the school such as severance payments to teachers who will all be laid off and then hired by the independent school.
- Bennington Banner
Published: Mar 26, 2013, 1:00 AM
Updated: Mar 25, 2013, 10:38 PM
Tuesday March 26, 2013
BENNINGTON -- The North Bennington Graded School District may ask the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union for a $50,000 reduction in its assessment after the proposal received mixed reactions Monday at a meeting attended by few supervisory union representatives.
The recommendation is one of two proposed by North Bennington Prudential Committee representative Glenn Chaney as a way to reduce costs in the case the school board closes its public school this summer. Cutting the $99,000 assessment for administrative services in half is somewhat an arbitrary reduction, however Chaney said it represents the approximate cost of services that would not be required of a non-operating district. The reduction would be for items like curriculum, payroll and others costs associated with personnel, Chaney said.
"We feel that there are things in this administrative services column that we are not going to use, but there is no argument we need superintendent services and financial services to help make sure the district continues to run appropriately," Chaney said.
The other proposal, which Chaney and Chairman Raymond Mullineaux said they preferred, is to pay SVSU administrative costs on a per diem basis. That approach, they claimed, makes the most sense because North Bennington would be charged for costs they incur -- such as additional work that required of administration in relation to closing the school -- and not charged for services they do not use.
The proposal to pay a per diem rate was opposed by the three SVSU representatives at Monday’s special committee meeting. The primary argument against it is the time it would take officials to track how much time the spent related to North Bennington -- from quick phone calls to longer budget planning.
In addition to consuming time, Superintendent Catherine McClure said billing for services would be difficult because state financial reporting is done for supervisory union without separating districts.
Chaney said he hopes next school year an analysis is done studying what services the non-operating district uses so the following year a more accurate assessment based on actual services can be given. Doing that in time for next school year is not an option because of time, however, so the ideal solution for North Bennington would be for SVSU to reduce its assessment.
"Whatever we agree to this round isn’t setting a precedent for next year, but it’s a way for resolving this year," Chaney said.
North Bennington will bring its proposal to the full SVSU board Wednesday. An important factor in the decision may be an analysis of the impact on other districts by decreasing North Bennington’s assessment. In most cases, reducing one district’s assessment would require others to absorb the costs. The supervisory union could, however, ask for administration to underspend -- resulting in level costs for other districts.
"You keep framing this as if this will then have to be re-allocated to other districts, I don’t see it that way," Mullineaux said as he addressed cost concerns. "I think the other districts are well within their rights to say, ‘we’ve warned our assessment total and its up to management to adjust things so we get our services for the amount we put in our budget.’"
Sean-Marie Oller and Leon Johnson, SVSU representatives from the Mount Anthony Union district, said a reduction in North Bennington’s assessment for services they will not use make sense, however both stopped short of saying they will support a reduction.
Larry Johnson, a Shaftsbury School District representative, said he opposed adjusting the assessments without SVSU benefiting as a result.
"I can understand what you’re doing, but I can’t develop a real solid idea of why I should help you achieve that because I don’t see the benefit to me," Johnson said.
Chaney said the SVSU will not receive direct benefits, however other districts will be able to watch the process North Bennington is undertaking and may learn from it ways to better education in their own districts. "We’re basically a test subject for a model (of) potentially improved education," Chaney said.
In order for the transition from public to independent school to be cost neutral, the North Bennington Prudential Committee must find about $100,000 in reductions to its non-operating budget. The Prudential Committee has stated they will not close the public school unless the move proves to be cost neutral.
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- Bennington Banner
Published: Mar 23, 2013, 1:00 AM
Updated: Mar 22, 2013, 10:28 PM
Saturday March 23, 2013
BENNINGTON -- The North Bennington Prudential Committee is poised to present a proposal Monday of what it would like its assessment from Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union reduced to in the case it closes its public school; however, pushing additional costs onto other districts seems improbable.
Representatives from North Bennington and SVSU met to discuss the potential transition of closing North Bennington Graded School for a second time Tuesday, and decided by the March 25 meeting a proposal will be presented. That proposal will then be taken to the full SVSU board meeting March 27, as any change would have to be approved by the 12-member SVSU board.
North Bennington must cut its spending, which includes its assessment from the supervisory union, about $100,000 in order for closing the public school and leasing the building to the independent Village School of North Bennington to prove cost neutral.
Glenn Chaney, a member of the North Bennington Prudential Committee, suggested assessments to North Bennington for things like curriculum -- which a non-operating district will not benefit from -- should be reduced. Other potential reductions brought up include administrative costs, which Chaney said a non-operating district will not rely on as much as an operating district.
In most cases a reduction to North Bennington’s assessment would result in higher assessments to the other five districts in the supervisory union as the costs would still exist, according to Chief Financial Officer Richard Pembroke.
Members of some other districts have already spoken out against accepting additional costs due to North Bennington, including the entire Bennington School District board at a meeting March 18. Similar to North Bennington, BSD is also looking to reduce its expenses after voters rejected its proposed budget on Town Meeting Day.
"I certainly don’t want an increase, and you can bring that (message to the SVSU board meeting)," Paul Becker told the district’s SVSU representatives.
BSD is considering asking the SVSU board to reduce its budget, however Chairman Ken Swierad said that request would be much different than looking for a decrease in a single district’s assessment.
"A cut is a cut. Don’t pass it on to someone else," Swierad said.
At Tuesday’s meeting with North Bennington representatives, Larry Johnson, a Shaftsbury School District member, said in addition to a proposal from North Bennington, he’d like to see an estimate from SVSU officials regarding the expense the supervisory union is incurring through the transition. The point, Johnson said, is SVSU administration has dedicated -- and will continue to dedicate -- a lot of time planning for the closure of North Bennington’s public school, and instead of paying for that additional time North Bennington is looking for a reduction.
"We’ve spent a lot of time and money up to this point, and it’s not of our doing," Johnson said. "I’d like to know what the transition cost for (North Bennington) to do this is to the SU so that the member districts will know. This is like a divorce. We didn’t ask for this. You folks came to us and said we’d like to go away, so there has to be an associated cost in doing that."
SVSU administrative costs are assessed by the percent of students in each district, proportional to the total in the supervisory union. North Bennington Graded School District makes up almost 4 percent of the students, so it pays almost 4 percent of the total administrative costs. Johnson suggested administration is now being forced to dedicate much more than 4 percent of their time because of this process.
In the supervisory union’s cost analysis, Johnson asked Chief Financial Officer Richard Pembroke to not only include costs for things like physically removing property from the school that was purchased by federal grants, as will be required, but also a per diem rate for the time administrators are spending to work out the details.
"Many of the things we are talking about are going to have an associated expense to the SU. How do we recover that expense when it happens. Do we assess a penalty up front saying we’ve got to have a contingency amount of money to cover the physical removal of equipment," Johnson said.
- Bennington Banner
Published: Feb 9, 2013, 1:00 AM
Updated: Feb 8, 2013, 7:17 PM
Friday February 8, 2013
NORTH BENNINGTON -- The North Bennington Prudential Committee discussed Friday a process to ensure closing the public elementary school and tuitioning students is cost neutral.
In order to make spending in the fiscal year 2014 "non-operating" school budget equal to that of the "operating" budget the board will need to find in the ballpark of $100,000 to cut, which the board said it will find or it will not consider closing North Bennington Graded School and leasing the building to the independent Village School of North Bennington.
The district has already warned a $2.3 million budget that will go before voters March 5. The spending is enough to continue operating a public school; however, a projected non-operating budget is higher due to additional expenses such as one-time retirement or severance payments for teachers and the need to escrow money.
The Prudential Committee plans to begin the cost-cutting process by looking at its $95,000 assessment from Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union. The supervisory union assesses member districts for most expenses proportional to the number of students in each district.
The Prudential Committee’s argument is without operating a school the public district will not require as many services -- from administrative oversight to curriculum costs.
"We believe, like anybody, that you should only pay for services you actually receive and certainly (not pay for) services as a non-operating district we would not even access," Chairman Raymond Mullineaux said. "Conversely we are committed to paying fairly for services that we actually receive and use from the SU."
Mullineaux said Woodford School District, whose teachers do not belong to the union, does not have to pay a share of negotiation expenses because they are not impacted by it. Likewise, he said, North Bennington should not pay for some services it will not benefit from.
A letter detailing North Bennington’s stance approved by the board Friday identifies technology, human resources, curriculum and assessment, administration, and finance as areas non-operating districts do not require the same amount of service.
Those points have largely been disputed by the SVSU. A draft assessment with North Bennington not operating a school shows North Bennington School District would not be assessed anything for technology, English language learner costs, or the PLUS program, however their share of the assessment for administration, finance, special education administration and early childhood costs would be unchanged.
In response to a request from the Prudential Committee’s attorney Joseph O’Dea to set up assessment negotiations, SVSU Chief Financial Officer Richard Pembroke responded in December that he does not see a reason other assessments would be affected. "Administrative, Special Education Administration, Early Childhood Program, and Financial Services would remain because we still retain significant responsibility over the students of (North Bennington) regardless if they operate a school or not," Pembroke wrote.
There appears to also be some question whether supervisory unions should assess based on students in a school district, or attending the district’s public school. Mullineaux said assessments are done by average daily membership (ADM) in each district, which would mean non-operating districts would not be assessed.
"This district won’t have an ADM count if it goes to a non-operating situation, but we will be using services so it makes sense to negotiate the costs for those services," Mullineaux said.
Any assessment changes would have to be authorized by the SVSU board -- an 18-person board with three representatives from each member district. SVSU set its fiscal year 2014 budget in January and if the assessments were lowered for North Bennington the other five districts would have to pick up more of the costs.
The Prudential Committee plans to meet with the SVSU Finance Committee in the next week, and then the full SVSU board to negotiate their assessment.
Principal Thomas Martin said the SVSU assessment makes up about one-third of the expenses in the non-operating budget that the school board could affect to make it flat with the operating budget. The majority of the non-operating budget is fixed costs, such as debt-service and tuition.
Because the non-operating budget is not finalized it will not be included in the annual report next to the operating budget. However, the board said when it is complete, it will be distributed and explained to the public.
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- Bennington Banner
Published: Feb 7, 2013, 1:00 AM
Updated: Feb 7, 2013, 11:46 AM
Editor's note. Revisions have been made to include Woodford Hollow's math scores that were the highest in the SVSU, and to correct proficiency rates in Dorset, Arlington and Readsboro.
BENNINGTON - Significant gains made by Vermont elementary and middle school students in writing were not mirrored locally, where most schools continue to perform below state average on standardized tests. Results from the 2012 New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP) exams in reading, math and writing taken by students last fall were released Tuesday by the Vermont Agency of Education and show improvement in writing but little change in math and reading comprehension.
Students in grades three through eight and grade 11 are tested in reading and math each fall, while writing exams are administered to students in grades five, eight and 11. Fifth grade writing proficiency rates increased from 46 to 51 percent in the most recent results and there were greater gains among eighth graders in writing as 66 percent scored at least proficient, compared to 59 percent the prior year. High school juniors were 46 percent proficient, compared to 48 the previous year.
In Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union just North Bennington Graded School, with 60 percent of students proficient, and Shaftsbury Elementary, with 53 percent proficient, scored above the state average in writing. Mount Anthony Union Middle School students met the state average, a 9 percent increase from last year when 57 percent were proficient.
Many SVSU schools fared worse in writing than in previous years; however, the students taking the exam each year are not the same, so comparing one year to the next can be misleading. Making the comparison more difficult is that a teacher strike in 2011 interrupted tests that fall, causing many schools not to complete administering the exams.
Kathi Marcoux, curriculum director for SVSU, said the results are frustrating because she knows the many good things that are happening in the areas schools. The results also show a high percentage of students who scored "partially proficient," meaning they are on the cusp of proficiency.
"We seem to have more students in writing who instead of scoring a three scored a two, and two is almost there," Marcoux said. Less than one-third of students scored proficient in writing at all three of Bennington's elementary schools, which had administrators scratching their heads after gains had been made a couple of years ago. The next step, Marcoux said, will be to work with principals and teachers to go over the writing prompt on the NECAP and determine why students got tripped up - so teachers may focus instruction in that area.
In the county, some of the highest results in writing were at Dorset School, where fifth graders were 60 percent proficient and eighth graders were 90 percent proficient, and Burr and Burton Academy where 61 percent of juniors scored proficient.
Statewide elementary and middle school proficiency rates in reading went down one percentage point from 74 to 73 percent. Reading results at the high school level were the exact opposite, increasing from 73 to 74 percent proficient.
Mount Anthony Union High School students were 74 percent proficient in reading, a big improvement from 63 percent in 2010.
Other local schools saw reading scores fall, including Molly Stark Elementary, where 49 percent of students scored proficient after 67 percent of those tested two years ago were proficient. "I was disappointed. I thought we would have done better on our reading scores because I feel we have an awful lot in place," Principal Donna MacKenzie King said. "We continue to look at our grouping of kids on a regular basis. We are doing vertical teams of a classroom teacher, reading specialist, and a special educator, looking at individual students to determine where they are."
Even prior to the NECAP results the school's literacy team was discussing ways to improve instruction to students who continue falling behind their peers. "Reading instruction continues to be a top priority at Molly," MacKenzie King said.
The principal did not want to make excuses for the results, however, she said there are a number of circumstances many students at Molly Stark face that can make learning difficult. Molly Stark has one of the highest transient populations, a very high turnover rate of students and has a shortage of ancillary space at the school - which has led to instruction being given on the stage and in overcrowded rooms. This year alone there have been nearly 70 new students and 40 children who have moved out of the school, MacKenzie King said. The transitions make learning difficult not only for those students, but also for classmates.
Some of the highest elementary and middle school reading proficiency rates in the county were at Arlington Memorial Middle School (77 percent proficient), Dorset School (85), Readsboro Elementary (85), Sunderland Elementary (84), and North Bennington Graded School (81). Vermont math scores at the elementary and middle school level were unchanged with 65 percent of students scoring proficient. Math results for high school students increased from 36 to 38 percent proficient.
"High school mathematics continues to be high on the agency's and governor's list of priorities. While we only saw a slight increase in high school math scores, our educators are serious about improving our students' understanding and passion for math," Secretary of Education Armando Vilaseca said in a release. "If Vermont's students are going to be ready to continue their education beyond high school and be successful in the 21st century, they're going to need stronger math skills and knowledge. A 2 percent increase is not enough." At MAUHS, 31 percent of juniors scored proficient in math.
The only SVSU schools to score higher than the state average in math were Woodford Hollow at 75 percent and NBGS at 73 percent, however most SVSU elementary schools showed improvement from recent years, according to Marcoux.
Some of the other top math scores in the county came from Readsboro Elementary (72 percent), Dorset School (79), and Sunderland Elementary (68).
While SVSU NECAP results were not as high as hoped, Marcoux said is important for people to remember the NECAP assessment is just one of many gauges schools use to offer a snapshot at how students are doing. "It's only one assessment to let us know how our students are doing, but it's the public one," she said.
Published: Jan 30, 2013, 1:00 AM
Updated: Jan 30, 2013, 8:41 AM
Wednesday January 30, 2013
NORTH BENNINGTON -- The North Bennington Prudential Committee warned a fiscal year 2014 budget Tuesday that shows a 10 percent increase and will have to be divided among two questions on the Town Meeting Day ballot.
The budget of $2,317,000 comes in just below the state's excess spending penalty that adds a tax surcharge to residents if a district's budget is more than 125 percent of the state average. The Prudential Committee cut $20,000 from the equipment line in the previous draft budget in order to avoid the penalty.
However, North Bennington is above the state's two-vote provision required of districts whose budget results in a spending per equalized pupil higher than the state average and increases spending higher than the rate of inflation plus one percent. Because the budget meets both of those criteria, the March 5 ballot will have one question asking voters to authorize the school to spend $2.25 million (the portion of the budget that falls under inflation plus one percent) and a separate article asking voters to approve $70,000 (which is the portion that exceeds that amount).
Since Act 82, commonly referred to as the two-vote provision, was enacted in 2007 no SVSU district has met the threshold. Stephen Dale, executive director for the Vermont School Boards Association, said he knows of 10 school districts since the passage of Act 82 that met the two-vote provision. Of them, six have had both articles pass, three have had both articles voted down, and one had the first article pass and the second rejected. This March, Dale said, he has heard there may be 15 or more districts who have to divide their budget into two votes.
The warned budget represents a projected 15 cent tax rate increase for the school district; however, the actual homestead tax rate increase for residents is expected to be about 10 cents after blending the rate with the Mount Anthony Union School District. The budget maintains all positions and programs at the same level as this year.
The school district also warned Tuesday an article asking voters to approve a tuition rate to the independent Village School of North Bennington in the amount of $12,938 if the Prudential Committee goes forward with closing the public school, which voters have authorized it to do.
Chairman Raymond Mullineaux said if voters approve the tuition article then $12,938 would be the maximum tuition the district would pay for students to attend any public or private, non-religious, school in Vermont.
The budget amount, if approved, will be the same whether the district continues operating North Bennington Graded School or closes the school and leases the building to the Village School. However the most recent draft budget under the scenario of not operating a school showed spending to be $77,000 higher than spending in the operating budget. Since that draft was presented to the board last week, the Village School announced a higher tuition rate that would make the different between the two budgets about $100,000. The Prudential Committee scheduled a meeting for Feb. 7 to discuss ways to bring the non-operating budget down to $2,317,000. Mullineaux said the Prudential Committee will find a way for spending in the non-operating budget to equal spending in the operating budget, however Chief Financial Officer Richard Pembroke said he didn't know how it could.
"I don't know how you're going to get, with this higher tuition rate, to the warning level," he said.
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Published: Jan 8, 2013, 1:00 AM
Updated: Jan 7, 2013, 11:33 PM
Tuesday January 8, 2013
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. 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.
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Thursday January 3, 2013
NORTH BENNINGTON -- About 40 residents in the North Bennington Graded School gymnasium on the eve of today's vote were separated down the middle by those who support replacing the public elementary school with an independent school and those who do not support it.
Today is the third time residents of the school district will head to the polls to decide whether to authorize the Prudential Committee to close the public school and lease the building to the Village School of North Bennington beginning next school year.
The majority of questions and comments at Wednesday's town meeting were similar to those made in March, when voters first approved such measures by a wide margin, and in October, the night before a second ballot passed by just 26 votes. At times, half of the audience applauded comments made on one side of the argument, and moments later the other half of the audience would applaud to its counterpoint.
As they have for the past year, proponents including the Prudential Committee contest that an independent model is the only way to ensure the state does not force the school to consolidate or close. Current legislation gives sole authority to close a school to voters of the district, but proponents argue that could change any year as the state continues to seek ways to save money.
"We have an opportunity while the window is open now to ... control our future and destiny, rather than hope for the idea that somewhere along the line maybe legislation doesn't go through," said Robert McKenna, a district resident and parent of Brian McKenna, who sits on the Village School's Board of Trustees. "I'd rather make that choice for ourselves."
Supporters also argue the change will help lower taxes in the future because of the ability of the Village School to more easily raise private funds and accept tuition students. Eva Sutton, co-chairwoman of the Village School board, said every year the public school receives requests from families outside of the district who want to send their children to North Bennington so she is confident families will choose to send their children to the independent school as well. She also said private donors are already inquiring about donating money, however the Village School has yet to raise money and recently relied on a $26,000 gift from the public district to pay attorney fees.
The Prudential Committee also supports the change because the closure of the public school would allow parents and children in the district school choice. Without a public school, Prudential Committee Chairman Raymond Mullineaux said, parents will be able to take public money to pay tuition to a public or private school of their choice.
Opponents have largely argued against the independent model because the public will no longer have as much input.
"If North Bennington Graded School goes independent we lose our voice in decisions being made about our neighborhood school. Currently we are able to be a part of the democratic process that allows us to help elect officials to the school. We're going to lose that ability if the school goes independent. We are guaranteed by law official notification of school board meetings and can participate in discussions of how our tax dollars are spent," Laura Boudreau said.
Sutton said ultimately the Prudential Committee, and those who elect it, retain control because the public board can stop leasing the building to the Village School if they are not pleased with how it operates.
Those opposed to the change have also cast doubts on fears the public school will ever be forced to close or that the independent model will not cost taxpayers more.
District Treasurer Gail Mauricette pointed out that Winhall, where the only other independent elementary school in the state is, has seen significant tax increases amounting to more than 12 percent the past two years and the town has run a deficit numerous times since closing its public school. "I don't believe this is a successful model," she said.
Concerns that not all children may be able to attend the independent school were also raised because the Village School is only seeking approval of three of the 12 special education categories in its independent school application to the state. Sutton reiterated that the school plans to apply for every category once the school is approved by the state. Mullineaux said the only way the Prudential Committee will move forward with closing the public school is if all students who would attend the public school are able to attend the Village School.
In March voters approved similar ballot questions to authorize the public school closure and lease to take place over the summer but the State Board of Education did not approve the Village School's independent school application when it was on the agenda in May so the transition did not take place. In October residents again approved those questions -- that time by just 26 votes -- but a petition submitted in November signed by more than 5 percent of the electorate called for a reconsideration vote.
Polls are open today from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the village depot.
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