Thursday October 4, 2012

DAWSON RASPUZZI

Staff Writer

BENNINGTON -- The state auditor’s office is funding a follow-up on a controversial efficiency study completed two years ago of Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union that included more than 80 recommendations.

Implementing

Supervisory union officials will review progress SVSU has made in implementing recommendations of the report today with Robert Schiller, who worked with MGT of America Inc. to conduct the study paid for by Auditor Thomas Salmon’s office.

Superintendent Catherine McClure accepted almost all of the recommendations following the report’s release in October 2010, which included recommendations geared toward saving money, increasing efficiencies and bettering educational opportunities in the supervisory union’s nine schools. Several recommendations in all nine categories -- administration, special services and programs, education service delivery, human resources, financial management and purchasing, facilities use and management, food services management, technology management, and transportation -- have been implemented, McClure said. The recommendations from the report have been kept in mind, although McClure said many of the changes that have been implemented were already planned and would have been made even if not for the report.

Examples McClure gave of recommendations already adhered to were making all paychecks direct deposit, centralizing supplementary transportation that used to be contracted to multiple providers, as well as most of the recommendations concerning curriculum.


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"In the curricular area we look really good, at least in my assessment, because we’re well ahead of many districts in the Common Core re-organization," McClure said of new standards Vermont has adopted and will be in place in 2015.

A number of administrative changes have also been made to realign responsibilities and eliminate positions, including the director of grants management and director of student support services, as recommended.

The report claimed an annual savings of $2 million could be realized if all of the recommendations were followed, but the majority of that savings would come from closing Woodford Hollow Elementary and consolidating six school districts to form one regional school board. The recommendation of closing Woodford’s school was declined in McClure’s original response, and remains the sentiment of the administration.

The recommendation of consolidating districts was rejected by the school boards when they voted to end a consolidation study without changing the governance structure earlier this year.

There are still some recommendations that were accepted or partially accepted by the administration that have yet to be met. One such recommendation is to consolidate the procedure to approve policy. The process currently requires drafts to be warned and approved by six different school boards. There are often changes made to original drafts and the process of changing or adopting a new policy often takes many months and in some cases more than a year.

McClure said the plan is still to address streamlining the process, particularly with policies that must be reviewed annually, although she has not been able to do it yet. With an assistant superintendent in place after two years without one, McClure said that recommendation and others may be addressed in the near future.

Other than closing Woodford’s school, the only other recommendation McClure declined in her original response was sharing business office staff with other supervisory unions. Ironically, SVSU began sharing business services last school year with the much smaller Battenkill Valley Supervisory Union in Arlington upon BVSU’s request. This year BVSU has expanded that relationship and now uses SVSU for its entire financial oversight.

McClure said she expects Schiller will issue a report of the supervisory union’s progress in November or December. Additionally, McClure said, the auditor’s office has also organized another status update two years from now.

In addition to his involvement with the SVSU study, Schiller also led a separate efficiency audit of Southwest Vermont Career Development Center released in January that made many recommendations to improve the technical school. Among those changes were to contract some services or consolidate with SVSU.

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