For the third straight time the North Bennington Graded School District voted to close their public elementary school and lease the building to an independent school. Each time such a vote took place, those opposing the decision found a way to bring the question up for a vote again. Perhaps for those voting to expand their school choice options, the third time will be the charm. They might ask those who keep delaying the implementation of the people’s democratically expressed will: “Can your hear us now?” Here is how the Bennington Banner described this latest victory for school choice:
By a 326-298 margin, voters authorized the Prudential Committee to close North Bennington Graded School after this school year. By a 332-292 vote they authorized leasing the building to the Village School of North Bennington.
Proponents of the change, including the Prudential Committee itself, rallied behind the independent model as being more sustainable due to the its ability to more easily attract tuition-paying students and raise private funds to enhance education.
“The validation for the third time is gratifying, but it is a win only in the sense that it gives us the opportunity as a whole community to face the exact same problem that we face today (of sustainability of an elementary school in North Bennington),” Prudential Committee member Matthew Patterson said following the vote.
This citizen victory for school choice is not yet complete. The democratic decision must now be approved by the state’s educational bureaucracy. Bureaucratic delay is what held up the implementation of the voters democratically exercised decision previously:
The Village School still must be approved by the State Board of Education, which is expected to happen at its Jan. 15 meeting.
“We’re looking forward to moving forward with the Board of Education and the approval, which we assume based on their comments last time will be forthcoming at the next meeting,” said Eva Sutton, co-chairwoman of the Village School.
Thursday’s vote followed a vote on similar questions that passed overwhelmingly in March to close the school last summer. Because the state board did not approve the independent school application by the Village School in time for the summer transition the Prudential Committee opted not to close the school.
Residents again approved questions specific to next school year in October, that time by just 26 votes. A petition calling for a reconsideration vote was submitted in November, which forced a third vote.
On Thursday about 60 more ballots were cast than in October when the school closure vote passed 294-268.
Will the will of the people be thwarted yet again by state government bureaucracy? Stay tuned.