NORTH BENNINGTON >> The North Bennington Prudential Committee on Wednesday sought further answers regarding how they could see the Community Eligibility Provision, which provides free breakfast and lunch to all other students in the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union, could be expanded to the Village School of North Bennington.
The SVSU adopted the CEP, a federal program designed to provide food at not cost in schools with high poverty levels, before the start of this school year. The program was available to some schools in the SU the previous year, but they decided not to pursue it, as it would create inequalities between the schools in the SU. Representatives from North Bennington have repeatedly asked why those fears of inequality did not extend to the Village School, who was excluded from the program because they are in a different Food Service Advisory (referred to as a School Food Advisory in federal law) than the rest of the SU.
"I'm really more interested, at this point, in finding out how the Village School can become included in this," said board chairman Matthew Patterson, "The facts are a little different than what the understanding is, in respect to when the Village School, before opening their doors, were told... by Abbey Group that they wouldn't be able to provide food anymore for North Bennington, even though for many years it was cooked in Shaftsbury. This is an important point, because there's a relationship like that happening still. Then it, in fact, turns out that that wasn't a problem."
When asked by assistant SVSU superintendent Donna Leep why he felt the board had been told that they could no longer remain in the SFA, when that was indeed an option, Patterson responded, "I think retribution, frankly. There's no other reason. It didn't change the number of kids or anything, the same process was happening, they (the Abbey Group) were just told that they (the Village School) couldn't. I don't know if they were told by corporate, or by (SVSU) central office, or what, but it turned out not to be true, because in the end they are providing our service."
After leaving the SVSU's SFA, the Village School spent $50,000 on a kitchen, as they were no longer able to have their food prepared in Shaftsbury. Board member Ray Mullineaux said that that had not been done with taxpayer money, but instead came to the school in the form of a donation from a member of the community who wanted to support the school.
"The outcome of this is that our kids are not getting the same services as every other kid in the SU," said Patterson, "Our kids, even though they are part of the SU, which we are reminded constantly, are not allowed to participate in this program, unless they happen to attend Shaftsbury, which, because they have choice, they can. On the other hand, there are kids who might choose to tuition in to this school from districts that are in that SFA that are not allowed food here. How can that change?"
"Moving forward, you are a separate SFA, and that's where the gap is," said Leep, "You would have to become a part of the larger SFA. Or, there is another program, called Provision 2, which is another way to calculate your food usage. (The state) has offered technical assistance." Mullineaux said that, in following up on Provision 2, had been told that it would not work for the school.
At an earlier meeting of the SVSU, CFO Rick Pembroke explained why the Village School had been excluded in his own words. "The facts that need to be understood," he said, "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."
Patterson said that the Village School would continue to investigate the option of re-joining the larger SFA.