Saturday November 10, 2012

DAWSON RASPUZZI

Staff Writer

BENNINGTON -- After work force officials said the poor reputation of local schools is partly to blame for Bennington's economic troubles, the Mount Anthony Union school board rekindled its discussion of adding a community outreach position.

For years, officials within the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union have debated hiring someone for public relations or handing such responsibilities to current employees. Year after year the school boards refrain from such a budget expense after arguments are made about cutting other staff positions or resources. But some MAU board members said they believe the time has come when outreach should be looked at as a priority.

The discussion prior to budget season was begun this year by David Fredrickson, who cited recent newspaper articles that included comments from Southwestern Vermont Medical Center Chief Executive Officer Thomas Dee and a local Realtor. They said it is hard to attract employees, especially professionals, to this area because of the schools' reputations.

"I think if the perception is negative, then we've got to have a plan to put out the positive because there are a lot of positive things happening at Mount Anthony," Fredrickson said.

Fredrickson's first suggestion was to encourage teachers to submit press releases to local media outlets regarding positive things they are involved in, but after being told that the schools have tried that and it has not been consistent the discussion turned to creating a position.


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"This has been coming up year, after year, after year, and every year we talk about putting (newspaper) columns out, and we talk about getting things out there and it just doesn't happen," Chairwoman Sean-Marie Oller said.

Oller, who is also chairwoman of the SVSU board, said the entire supervisory union should consider the issue of outreach at a future meeting instead of MAU looking at it individually.

MAU High School Principal Sue Maguire said an alternative to hiring a new person to do publicity could be to offer a stipend to an employee to do outreach in the evenings.

It is not uncommon for public school systems to employ outreach coordinators. First-year MAU Middle School Principal Timothy Payne said his previous school, Mount Greylock Regional High School, in Williamstown, Mass., budgeted for such a position. The need for Mount Greylock, he said, was due to competition from nearby private schools such as Pine Cobble.

Arlington School District, which has about one-tenth as many students as SVSU, has a part-time outreach coordinator. In addition to community outreach, that position also oversees the school system's websites and has other responsibilities.

SVSU is just beginning its budget process for fiscal year 2014, so a discussion about a position that may increase the budget is likely to happen at SVSU's meeting later this month.

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