BENNINGTON >> The board of the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union was updated on a number of topics last week by superintendent Jim Culkeen, including North Bennington's status in becoming a part of the Community Eligibility Provision that provides free meals to the other students in the SU and Act 46.
"Last month my vice-chair asked some questions about the CEP program, and why North Bennington was not included," said North Bennington representative Ray Mullineaux, "According to later discussion there was supposed to be a report on that this month." Culkeen and SVSU chief financial officer Rick Pembroke will be in attendance at the November meeting of the North Bennington Prudential Committee.
"Since the program was a possibility for this SU a year ago, and the reason we didn't do it was because we needed to make sure the program was equitable and could include all SVSU children, and since North Bennington students are SVSU students, I think that we have not met the equitable standard here," said Mullineaux, "I think at minimum there should have been an effort to work out with my public academy (the Village School of North Bennington), which serves all the children of North Bennington that choose to go there, a way to resolve this where they can be included."
The reason that North Bennington is excluded from the program, according to the state, is that, when the North Bennington Graded School became non-operating, the school board chose to leave the Local Education Agency that the SVSU is a part of, and become its own School Food Authority. The federal government bases eligibility for the CEP program on LEA, so North Bennington was not included in the program, even though they are part of the same SU. Mullineaux said that this can be corrected, and he expects to see action in that direction.
"The facts that need to be understood," said Pembroke, "is that the Village School of North Bennington, a private entity, created its own Food Service Authority. They chose to leave the supervisory union('s FSA). The FSA is an enterprise fund in and of itself, and they chose to create their own, which created their own problem. I don't think its fair to imply or even state that the SVSU has not allowed them to do something, when they made the choice to do what they've done." He apologized for Mullineaux for using the phrase "all students in the SVSU," in the press release announcing the program, which he said was misspoken.
Culkeen said that one of the biggest issues in the SVSU becoming compliant with Act 46, the 2015 education act, is North Bennington, which would not be able to continue operating in the way it currently does, tuitioning for pre-K through six, then sending their students to the Mount Anthony Union district for grades 7 through 12, if North Bennington merged into a single district with the rest of the SU. He said the law does allow for alternative structures, including North Bennington and the rest of the SU existing in a "side-by-side consolidation" structure that would continue to allow North Bennington to have school choice. He said that he feels that should be one of the things the SVSU Act 46 committee looks at going forward, but that there are many options.
"Everyone's free to look elsewhere, we're also free to look and see who wants to join us," he said, "I know Arlington is exploring other options. We don't know where this is going to end up, including if we're all going to be together in the end of this, and where the savings is going to be." The next meeting of the Act 46 committee is on Nov. 9 at 6 p.m. at SVSU central office.