11-12-15 – “Going Independent” in Face of Act 46

by Rob Roper

Tom Martin, the headmaster of the Village School of North Bennington (VSNB), which transitioned from a public elementary school to an independent town academy in 2013, spoke to a group of citizens in Stowe this week about his community’s experience.

Act 46, the school district consolidation bill passed by the legislature in 2015, has towns wondering what the future of education in their communities will look like, and considering what options will allow them to maintain control of that future. “Going independent” is one of those options.

The question Martin said communities need to ask themselves is “is the view worth the climb.” Taking the independent path is not an easy one. The process took three years and, according to Martin’s recollection, 128 town meetings/presentations of various sizes and venues, three town votes, and a run through the gauntlet of a hostile public education machine. Still, Martin says for North Bennington the climb was indeed worth it. “We wouldn’t go back.”

Among the VSNB’s accomplishments as an independent town academy, the baseline budget for operating the school has dropped roughly 7 percent since the transition. Even operating at lower cost, the town academy model has allowed VSNB the ability to add a pre-k program, a foreign language program including Spanish, French and Mandarin, an expanded music program, and “wrap around “ services for parents.

Martin also indicated that communities other than Stowe have expressed interest in exploring a town academy model.

There are four historic town academies in the state – St. Johnsbury Academy, Thetford Academy, Lyndon Institute, and Burr & Burton Academy. Only two other town academies exist – the Village School of North Bennington and the Mountain School at Winhall, both of which transitioned from public to independent in 2013 and 1998 respectively. As towns struggle with how to deal with Act 46, perhaps that number will increase.

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CLICK HERE FOR VIDEO of Martin’s Presentation.

Also of interest is this link: How to Privatize A Public School In Vermont, a Layman’s Guide by Vermonters for Better Education.

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