Tuesday November 27, 2012

DAWSON RASPUZZI

Staff Writer

BENNINGTON -- The Southwest Vermont Career Development Center school board will decide whether to consolidate or remain one of three independent technical centers in the state at its December meeting, although the decision appears to have already been made.

Eight of nine responding board members said they prefer remaining independent in anonymous responses to the question of whether they support CDC being an independent district with its own superintendent/director or dissolving the district and joining Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union.

Director James Culkeen asked the board to take an official vote at its next meeting given the data collected through the online survey that he distributed to the board in October.

The decision will come nearly one year after the release of a controversial governance and efficiency report done by consultant Dr. Robert Schiller that included nearly 50 recommendations and listed three potential governance structures for the future.

The first option is to keep the status quo -- which received eight anonymous votes of approval in the board survey. The second is to dissolve the CDC, which would likely mean consolidating with Mount Anthony Union High School. That option was supported by just one member of the board. The third option is to remain independent but to share more administrative services with SVSU, which received support of two of the nine respondents.

Two members of the 11-person CDC board did not answer the survey.


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With it appearing the board members have made up their minds, and the overarching governance question playing a role in how the technical center will address other recommendations in the report, Culkeen asked the board if it would take an official vote in December.

"In my opinion (the governance structure is) the big one and it drives a lot of decisions that we make on everything else. I think the time has come," Culkeen told the board.

Culkeen said he would also like the board to take action on Schiller's recommendation to eliminate the guidance coordinator position. Culkeen advocated for the position, saying he didn't see how the technical center could function without it, but also said there could be changes in the job description to make the position more efficient or useful.

Voting to remain independent does not necessarily mean CDC will not look to share more services with the much larger SVSU, although the majority of board members appear to prefer keeping all services in-house.

Just three of the nine respondent board members favored contracting with SVSU for technology, business and financial management. In a comments section, some responded that they would like more information about the financial savings of contracting those services. Others said they believe the work will be a better quality by keeping it in house.

By January, Culkeen expects to make recommendations to the board on Schiller's recommendations to transfer human resources, business and finance functions to the SVSU and eliminate the business manager and business manager assistant positions.

"I'm not ready to move on recommendations of whether the business offices remain independent, whether special ed. services remain independent and all of those. They would be looked at individually," Culkeen said.

The CDC has already addressed about 20 of the recommendations in Schiller's report. The only position it has eliminated since the report's release in February is the outreach coordinator.

The report was contracted at the urging of Education Commissioner Armando Vilaseca last year when the technical center asked the state for permission to hire a new superintendent. Some members of the board, as well as the staff, have discredited the recommendations in the report and suggested it is biased and was done with a pre-determined outcome encouraging consolidation with SVSU.

Contact Dawson Raspuzzi at draspuzzi@benningtonbanner.com or follow on Twitter @DawsonRaspuzzi