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When the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union Board of Directors extended James Culkeen's contract on May 26, it agreed to a base salary of $159,632 through June 2024. The board took the action without warning its intention to vote on an extension for Culkeen on the agenda. His contract, agreed to by the SVSU Board of Directors, was obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request by the Banner. 

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BENNINGTON — When the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union Board of Directors extended James Culkeen’s contract on May 26, it agreed to a base salary of $159,632 through June 2024.

At the same meeting, Assistant Superintendent William Bazyk, formerly superintendent of the Battenkill Valley Supervisory Union, agreed to a one-year contract with a base salary of $122,004. Bazyk joined the SVSU when the state Agency of Education mandated the BVSU join the SVSU.

The contracts, agreed to by the SVSU Board of Directors, were obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request by the Bennington Banner. The board took the action without warning its intention to vote on an extension for Culkeen, or a contract for Bazyk, on the agenda.

While state open meeting law does not require items on meeting agendas be specific, the Secretary of State’s Office, the Vermont Association of School Boards and the Vermont League of Cities and Towns all advise that meeting agendas should be worded so that the public knows what its elected officials will be discussing or deciding.

The SVSU board chairman, Dick Frantz, said last week that the board considers it sufficient to advise the public that it plans to enter an executive session — as provided by law for personnel matters — and then take action by vote once returning.

Culkeen has been SVSU superintendent since 2014. His previous contract expired in June 2020, but was extended by memorandum of understanding to June 30, 2021, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

If, in the 2021-22 school year, the SVSU’s central office administrators and directors receive a raise, Culkeen is entitled “an increase at least equal” to that increase. Raises for the 2022-23 and 2023-24 school years are to be determined by the board following his annual evaluation, but not less than any increase granted to SVSU central office administrators and directors.”

Culkeen’s contract was last renewed in 2017 with a three-year deal paying a base annual salary of $143,221. It contained the same language for potential raises as the current contract.

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Additional benefits include 13 paid holidays, 25 vacation days and 15 sick days annually, which may be accumulated up to 180 sick days. He is also allotted $5,000 per year for professional development, access to a 403(b) retirement plan, and $100 per month for a cellphone.

The contract allows the SVSU board to terminate Culkeen at any time for just cause, and with 365 days’ notice for no cause. It allows for Culkeen to resign with 60 days’ notice.

The contract was signed on June 10, 15 days after the board vote.

Bazyk’s contact also allots 25 vacation days, 15 sick days and 13 paid holidays. It provides funds “up to the established University of Vermont rate” for two graduate-level classes with prior approval from the superintendent, as well as appropriate conference fee reimbursement.

Where Culkeen’s contract provides a 9 percent contribution to a 403(b) plan if he contributes 6 percent, Bazyk’s contract provides a 5 percent match.

Bazyk’s contract also stipulates that “employee has no right to a successor employment agreement,” but adds that the board may offer a successor deal that is different from his current contract — including, “without limitation, reduction or elimination of the benefits proceed herein and no increase or reduction in compensation.”

It also allows the board to terminate the contract without cause with 90 days’ notice.

For comparison, Randi Lowe, the superintendent of the Bennington-Rutland Supervisory Union, has a two-year contract that paid her $135,000 in 2020-21 and will pay $139,050 in 2021-22.

Greg Sukiennik covers government and politics for Vermont News & Media. Reach him at gsukiennik@benningtonbanner.com.

Greg Sukiennik has worked at all three Vermont News & Media newspapers and was their managing editor from 2017-19. He previously worked for ESPN.com, for the AP in Boston, and at The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, Mass.


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