ELIZABETH A. CONKEY
BENNINGTON -- The Vermont Secretary of Education denied a local request Thursday that could have allowed a superintendent without an educational background to preside over the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union.
The request was initiated at a Sept. 12 SVSU Board of Directors meeting by Pownal Representative Jim O'Connor, who made a motion to amend the state's hiring policy. The motion passed 6-3 and a letter was later drafted and sent to Secretary of Education Armando Vilaseca by SVSU Chairwoman Sean-Marie Oller.
The requested change, which would have done away with the need for a superintendent to possess prior administrative and teaching experience, could have potentially allowed the SVSU's chief financial officer, Richard Pembroke, to assume the role of superintendent.
It was the belief of many of the board members who were opposed to the proposal that perhaps Pembroke was under consideration to fill the pending vacancy.
When asked directly during the meeting to comment on Pembroke possibly stepping in as superintendent, O'Connor vehemently denied any premeditated plans.
In the letter received by Oller on Monday, Vilaseca stated:
"Your letter raises a lot of issues, and it is impossible for me to make a decision in the abstract, given the fact that SVSU is not proposing a particular candidate whose qualifications I can measure against the various minimum requirements and statutory functions of the chief executive of a supervisory union ... Finally, the issuance of a waiver ... is within the discretion of the State Board of Education, not the Secretary of Education. For these reasons, I am not able to grant the requested waiver."
During a phone interview with the Banner Monday afternoon, Oller said while she has no plans to send the same letter to the State Board, the final decision will come from the SVSU Board.
Oller noted that Vilaseca's response has been added to the agenda for Wednesday night's SVSU meeting. Oller said she also plans to share excerpts of phone calls and e-mails she has received regarding the superintendent search.
Current SVSU Superintendent Catherine McClure said she was not surprised by Vilaseca's response, and noted that feedback received from the community has culminated in the vast majority expressing that the incoming superintendent should possess an educational background.
"This shows that the mission of educating our students is a high priority," McClure said. "I think our central office staff is of the mind that we are supporting our students and that their success is the main focus. It's at the heart of what we do."
SVSU Vice Chairwoman Cynthia Brownell, who was opposed to the waiver from the start, said she was pleased that Vilaseca denied the Board's proposal.
"He (Vilaseca) knows what the system needs and I think that's what he's based his decision on," she said. "I firmly believe that we need an educator, not a manager. There are so many aspects to the superintendent position. Finances and management are only a few of the several other things that need to be considered."
During the same September 12 meeting, the Board also voted to pursue a superintendent search with help from the New England School Development Council.
Oller recently contacted the organization's Executive Director Arthur Bettencourt, and requested that an initial proposal be prepared for the Board's next meeting. She expects that a review of the proposal will be added to this week's agenda as well.
"It will be the board's responsibility to decide whether they want to go forward with the requirements for a superintendent as written or if they want to still pursue the waiver," she said. "If the same six people that voted before request that the letter be sent to the State Board of Education, then I will forward on that same letter. It really is the Board's decision."
The SVSU board's regular meeting will be Wednesday at 7 p. m. in the MAU Middle School Library.
Contact Elizabeth A. Conkey at email@example.com or follow on Twitter @bethconkey.