ELIZABETH A. CONKEY

Staff Writer

BENNINGTON -- The Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union decided this week to forgo the pursuit of a waiver from the State Board of Education of certain educational background requirements for the successor of retiring superintendent Catherine McGuire.

A motion made at Wednesday night's meeting by SVSU Pownal Representative Jim O'Connor to re-send a waiver request that was recently denied by state Secretary of Education Armando Vilaseca failed 5-3.

O'Connor was the board member initially in favor of sending a letter to Secretary of Education Armando Vilaseca requesting a partial waiver to the state's superintendent hiring requirements. The letter was drafted and sent to Vilaseca by SVSU Chairwoman Sean-Marie Oller on Sept. 15.

Vilaseca responded to the SVSU request four days later, stating that the power to grant such a waiver was out of his hands, and that if the board wished to pursue the issue, that it must be re-sent to the State Board of Education.

If the SVSU's request for a waiver had been forwarded to the State Board of Education, and it was in fact granted, a superintendent lacking an educational background could have potentially presided over the supervisory union.

O'Connor said after the meeting that he was not frustrated with the board's action.

"What happened tonight was democracy in action," he said. "I tried and I lost. Now we will move forward. Business as usual."

Parents of children within the SVSU present during Wednesday's meeting seemed pleased with the motion's failure.

Laurie Mulhern is a mother of two school-aged children -- one is a student at Monument Elementary and the other is a student at Mount Anthony Union Middle School.

"I'm feeling very pleased about the board's decision," Mulhern said. "I don't feel that proceeding with that course of action (hiring a superintendent without an educational background) would have been in the best interest of our students or educational staff. There's a lot of need here in our SVSU (for) strong educational leadership to move us forward with not only state and federal changes, but also in helping us to create the best educational system we can for our community."

SVSU North Bennington Representative Raymond Mullineaux, who was opposed to idea of a waiver from the beginning, said he was pleased with the board's decision as well.

"I think that a little bit of practicality and rationality has set in," he said. "People in the community have spoken to board members and voiced their concerns and I'm pretty sure that's why some votes were changed tonight."

Mullineaux noted he was glad that the parents and community members reached out to his fellow board members.

"I think it's entirely appropriate that they said how they felt about it (the letter)," he said. "After all, we are representing them."

The board also reviewed a proposal presented by New England School Development Council Executive Director Arthur Bettencourt and voted unanimously to accept it. The board has used NESDEC's professional recruiting services in the past and will proceed with a superintendent search using their proposed services effective immediately, for an agreed-upon fee of $3,396.

Mullineaux said he felt confident in the board's choice to proceed in the search for a superintendent with help from NESDEC.

"From what I've seen so far, and based on the work they've done for us in the past, I think they're the best choice for us," said Mullineaux, who went on to say that actually finding a well-qualified superintendent that would be a good fit for the SVSU and vice-versa, could prove to be a challenge.

"I'd like to have a larger pool of candidates but I know the amount of people out there looking for jobs with the appropriate qualifications and experience are what they are," said Mullineaux. "You can't manufacture them."

Contact Elizabeth A. Conkey at econkey@benningtonbanner.com or follow on Twitter @bethconkey.