BENNINGTON -- A search for a new superintendent has been pushed back while the Southwest Vermont Career Development Center awaits approval from the state to fill the vacancy.
By state statute, school districts must get approval from the commissioner of Education to fill a superintendent vacancy. Permission once was fairly routine, until budget deficits prompted education officials to look more creatively at pressuring districts to consolidate. Over the past 12 months, a new trend has become common, in which smaller supervisory unions have been told they cannot hire a permanent superintendent.
Board Chairman Frank Lamb said at Monday’s CDC meeting that a letter requesting permission to hire a new superintendent/director was sent to the state last week, but a response hasn’t been received yet. The board appointed former Assistant Director Robert Montgomery on an interim basis to fill a vacancy created by Frank Barone’s resignation last month.
Within two weeks
A decision from the state may be slowed since Commissioner Armando Vilaseca has not returned to work since suffering a head injury in a fall while clearing snow from his roof earlier this month. A spokeswoman for the state said Vilaseca’s recovery is going well, although he may not return to work until March.
State statute says an answer to a supervisory union must be provided within two weeks of the request.
When Battenkill Valley Supervisory Union in Arlington had a superintendent vacancy last year, Vilaseca recommended, and the state board decided, to allow BVSU to hire an interim superintendent for one year. During that time, the supervisory union board was told to study disolving the BVSU and what supervisory union would best suit its two school districts.
There have been at least four other supervisory unions in the last year that requested hiring a new superintendent and were told to fill the position on an interim basis and conduct governance studies.
There are other examples of the state granting permission to hire new superintendents in the last 12 months.
"River Valley (Technical Center in Springfield) just hired a director/superintendent in June, and there was never any issue with the commissioner about that," Montgomery told the board.
No one with the Department of Education could be reached to discuss the factors that are considered in the commissioner’s decision.
Montgomery said there is some confusion about the process because state statute refers to superintendents, but the technical center vacancy is for a superintendent/director, which are different jobs filled by the same person.
Board member Leon Johnson said he agrees with the state’s intent to try to create efficiencies and said it could be beneficial for CDC to consider its own governance structure.
"Every time somebody leaves, we have to think about how we’re structured, and we ought to think about how we’re structured," Johnson said.
Some board members, including Edward Letourneau Jr. and Jon Peaslee, immediately disagreed that changing the governance structure should be considered.
The question was raised of whether CDC could skip the step of receiving permission from the state if it bypassed a search and just subtracted "interim" from Montgomery’s title.
Rickey Harrington said he believes Montgomery may be the best candidate, even if a search is conducted.
"Every time we go searching for a new superintendent or director ... we get that one perfect person, and then when they get in a little trouble and all these other papers from all over the world start reporting on all the things they did wrong back then. That was information I should have known back then!" said Harrington,referencing Barone’s name recently being brought up from a 2004 New York Department of Education list of 45 "poor performing" principals who were fired. "So, why don’t we just hire somebody right here? We know all about him, in a matter of fact. I grew up with Bob, I don’t think there’s any skeletons in his closet."
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