Wednesday December 19, 2012

DAWSON RASPUZZI

Staff Writer

BENNINGTON -- The Southwest Vermont Career Development Center school board put to rest Monday any possibility of dissolving the school district to consolidate with Mount Anthony Union High School or join the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union.

Consolidating the technical center was a recommendation in the controversial governance and efficiency report completed by independent consultant Dr. Robert Schiller in January at the request of Education Commissioner Armando Vilaseca.

The CDC board has argued Schiller is incorrect in his assertions that consolidating with MAUHS would reduce costs and create efficiencies. Instead, the members have said giving up a governing board independent of the high school would de-emphasize the focus on technical education.

Of the 17 regional technical centers in the state, CDC is one of three standalone districts that is not part of a larger supervisory union.

Rickey Harrington made a motion to reject "option two" in the Schiller report -- which is the elimination of the CDC district -- but after being told motions should be in the affirmative Harrington changed his motion to accept the option. The revised motion did not receive a second, which effectively eliminated the option from consideration.

Chairman Jim Boutin said Monday the CDC board met Vilaseca's request and will now move on to other recommendations in Schiller's report.

"This district, under the direction of the commissioner, did do what it was told to do. We conducted the study, we researched the options, and we are making a decision tonight that we want to have a school district that we currently have and we want to continue to run it the way we are running this school district," Boutin said.

Leon Johnson, who voted as a member of the Mount Anthony Union school board to allow CDC to separate from it about a decade ago, said he and others voted that way so there would be a larger focus on technical education by the governing board. To that effect, Johnson said being separate has been beneficial, although he also said the CDC board "may have gone overboard" by bringing all services in-house instead of contracting some services from MAU, with which CDC shares a building. Johnson said even as an independent district CDC should continue to look at ways to reduce costs without impacting programing.

"If we say we want to stay as a separate (district) we're still going to be faced with the fact that we've got to look at costs and we've got to build a strong center," Johnson said.

CDC Director/Superintendent James Culkeen asked last month for the board to vote on the governance structure Monday to allow him to proceed with other recommendations in Schiller's report, some of which are to contract additional services from MAUHS.

In addition to the governance question, the board also heard Culkeen's suggestion to reject two other recommendations from the report -- to eliminate both the guidance coordinator and special education coordinator positions. Culkeen said he believes the guidance position is important to attract students from all over the county to take CDC courses. The special education position is a requirement in the regulations for technical education in Vermont, Culkeen said.

Nobody on the board spoke in support of eliminating either position but because the agenda did not include either of those recommendations the board held off taking a vote until January.

More than 20 of the approximately 50 recommendations in Schiller's report have been addressed by the board to this point.

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