BENNINGTON >> The Bennington School District has said that they are no longer considering withdrawing from the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union.
"We talked to our lawyer at the last meeting," said board member Jackie Prue, "and we are not going to withdraw from the SVSU. We are not going to secede at this time. We are going to go forward with the consolidation study, as soon as we can get a consultant."
This decision could have important consequences for the SVSU's Act 46 Study Committee, which meets on Thursday night, at 6:30 p.m. in the library of the Village School of North Bennington. Prue, who serves as one of Bennington's representatives on that committee, had stated at their last meeting that she was in favor of dissolving the committee, and a vote on that was scheduled to be held on Thursday. Bennington deciding to remain a part of the committee would strongly influence the outcome of that vote.
Prue was still skeptical of an agreement being made with the other school districts, who would receive voting power relative to their student population on a consolidated SVSU board. Bennington currently has about two-thirds of the students in the SU. "We believe that we can all be one board, we don't have a problem with dissolving the BSD or the Mount Anthony board and becoming one board. The law states that (voting) has to be done by population in the community, and that's what they're afraid of. Bennington has the largest population, so they will have the largest representation on the board. The schools in Pownal, Shaftsbury, North Bennington, and Woodford are a critical part of their communities. They are the community centers for some of them, especially in Woodford.
"My position from the beginning," said board member George Sleeman, who also serves on the study committee, "is that we should do whatever we can do to preserve what we have right now. But, it has not been easy sledding so far, and I can tell you, tomorrow night will be interesting, because North Bennington wants out." As North Bennington representative Matthew Patterson explained at the previous Act 46 committee meeting, their district cannot become a part of a unified SVSU without losing their pre-K through sixth grade school choice. Instead, they are considering withdrawing from MAU and becoming a pre-K through 12 choice district, which will allow them to find other full choice partners.
Later in the meeting, board member Gene Rowley and Bennington Town Manager Stu Hurd got into a confrontation after Hurd suggested that the board hold off on the energy renovations scheduled for this summer. The project is currently awaiting approval from the state, from which the board expects to hear back from by next Tuesday. "It will allow you to make sure that you correct any deficiencies that may exist in the way the project has come to fruition," said Hurd, "It will give you more time to organize yourselves. It will allow, I think, a much slower, reasoned approach to the project."
Prue pointed out that the project has been being talked about for 18 months already. Rowley addressed Hurd, saying, "Why now, for one? And why do you feel it's your place as town manager to get so involved in school board issues? Don't you have enough to do running the town of Bennington? You have spent so much time between writing letters, and putting stuff in the newspaper, spending time at our meetings, don't you have enough stuff to do?"
"I do, Gene, thanks very much, but I'm also a taxpayer in the BSD," responded Hurd.
Superintendent Jim Culkeen also said that the search for a new principal at Molly Stark Elementary School has been concluded, and that he will be bringing a candidate before the board for approval at their next meeting.
The Bennington School Board meets the first Wednesday of every month at 7 p.m. in the either music room at Bennington Elementary, the auditorium at Monument Elementary, or the library of the Molly Stark School, depending on the month. Full recordings of their meetings are available on Catamount Access Television, and on the station's YouTube page.
Derek Carson can be reached for comment at 802-447-7567, ext. 122.