When North Bennington residents voted to shutter their public school, it wasn’t because of rising teacher pay or declining test scores. Far from it: They were worried the state would close or consolidate the small, kindergarten-through-sixth-grade school in their town of 1,500. So they preempted fate and made it private. The school district now pays tuition for North Bennington children to attend the new Village School.
“The reason we walked down this path was we wanted to sustain the school as it was, at the heart of the community, providing the service that it does to our district’s children,” says Ray Mullineaux, a 14-year veteran of the Prudential Committee, which governs the public school district. “We wanted to maintain local control, and we wanted to retain the climate and character and quality of the school.”
For their part, state officials say North Bennington had no reason to believe its elementary school’s days were numbered — and the town’s course of action could have unintended consequences.
“Basically what they did is turn over complete control of the school to a body that is not answerable to the public,” says outgoing Vermont Secretary of Education Armando Vilaseca.