SVSU ponders its top jobs, pay

Tuesday August 27, 2013



BENNINGTON -- Finding the right person to fill the job and paying that person well enough for all the tasks they are required to perform are things every employer worries about when faced with a staff vacancy. This is especially true of the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union as it prepares to enter the 2013-14 school year that comes with several key staff positions that need to be filled.

At a personnel committee meeting Monday at the SVSU Central Office, the discussion centered on administrative searches and compensation for director-level positions.

The top open position to be filled this year -- literally -- is that of SVSU superintendent, as Catherine McClure has announced her intent to resign before the school year ends in June 2014.

Jackie Prue, Bennington School District board, James O’Connor, Pownal representative, and Leon Johnson, Southwest Vermont Career Development Center board -- said they researched what qualities the district administration should look for in the next superintendent and reported back to the committee on Monday. The characteristics they came up with include someone who’s strong, commands respect, is confident and articulate, is action-oriented, has good time management skills, understands applicable law and is able to manage all the boards.

The superintendent’s position carries a salary of $126,000 for the fiscal year 2013-14, according to SVSU data.

"Catherine will help to determine the interim or short-term superintendent, also known as a ‘fixer’," Prue said. A short-term superintendent is defined as a candidate who fills the position for one to three years. "She would like to leave sooner rather than later but will assist in any capacity to find a new superintendent. Once the vision is in place (for the new superintendent), then we will look for a permanent superintendent."

During their research, Prue, O’Connor and Johnson found the need for an updated organizational chart for the SVSU Central Office that includes titles and duties that reflect what staff members are doing.

George Sleeman, BSD board vice chairman, said, "It seems to me we should be spending more time looking for an interim superintendent than on an organizational chart. The key should be what we need to do immediately to fill the interim superintendent position -- or whatever you want to call that position."

"It’s a very good beginning," said Cindy Brownell, Pownal representative, who noted she did think it was possible to make changes to the organizational chart while searching for a new superintendent.

Sean-Marie Oller, Mount Anthony Union representative and the SVSU board chairwoman, noted that the last time the SVSU conducted a superintendent search, they looked to three professional organizations, including the Vermont School Board Association, that came with a price in the thousands.

"But certainly the (supervisory union) board has to decide. This is just a subcommittee of the board," Oller said.

Also, the SVSU may be required to contact the state board of education and its secretary regarding the replacement of a superintendent. A study of the surrounding school districts may be required, Oller said.

Sleeman said contacting the Vermont Secretary of Education should be brought up at Wednesday night’s SVSU board meeting.

Another important staff vacancy at SVSU is assistant superintendent, as Donna Leep who previously held the post was recently named director of curriculum instruction and assessment, a position she started August 9. According to McClure, more than 30 people applied for the assistant superintendent job, which carries a salary of $108,665, and of those two will be called in for preliminary interviews. However, McClure said she intends at Wednesday’s meeting to ask that Leep temporarily fill the assistant superintendent position.

"We’re asking the board to change the start date of the director of curriculum," Oller said.

The position of human resources director -- with a salary not announced Monday -- is another one that is due to be filled this year.

"To fill this position would help the assistant and the superintendent with personnel issues," McClure said.

There have been 11 applicants for the HR Director position thus far, she said.

"It will start in January. This is a critical position to fill," McClure said. "I want it posted until filled."

Another key position to fill is that of director of special education -- a position that was budgeted at $87,852 for the 2013-2014 school year.

In the meantime, an interim director may be appointed. "For the interim director of special education, I want to nominate Wendy Pierce," McClure said. Salary for the interim director was not discussed. However, Pierce, a special educator and administrator at Mount Anthony Union High School who was present at Monday’s meeting, said accepting the position would mean a $6,000 salary drop for her along with increased responsibilities.

"We need a short-term fix. We can’t set the salary below what she makes now," McClure said. "Wendy’s is an interim director job for the year while we start a search."

O’Connor raised the possibility of a signing bonus, but McClure said that would be unfair to others who are already in the position.

"We all know you’re taking on a massive responsibility and we definitely will make a move to compensate you," Brownell told Pierce.

Oller said "The community may balk at the salaries. We have to be careful how we present them. We have to present the jobs’ value."

Mark Tilley, Woodford representative, said "It’s a lot to be paying an individual, but it’s all in the results. Until we start seeing results for these kinds of salaries, it’s a tough sell to the community."

The SVSU administrative searches and current vacancies will again be discussed at the SVSU board of directors meeting will be held at the Mount Anthony Union Middle School Library on Wednesday beginning at 6:30 p.m.

Contact Michelle Karas at; follow her on Twitter @Bannereditor.


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