BRANDON — All 18 members of the Rutland Northeast Supervisory Union Board voted unanimously Wednesday night to offer the job of RNeSU superintendent to Jeanne Collins under a one-year contract. She implied in an email to theReporter that she would accept the offer.
The vote was taken following a 90-minute executive session in which the board heard the recommendation of the interview committee and deliberated the decision to offer Collins the job and, if so, for how long.
Collins emerged as the lone candidate to replace RNeSU Superintendent John Castle, who is leaving for another job at the end of June. An exhaustive six-week search netted an initial 22 candidates before the RNeSU Board’s Search Committee narrowed down the pool.
Collins, the embattled superintendent of the Burlington School District, has resigned her Burlington job effective next month. Her separation agreement with the Burlington School Board came about because of budget deficits and a difference in philosophy over the direction of the district. In the separation, the Burlington board agreed to give a severance package to Collins, who had two more years on her contract, totaling roughly $230,000.
The recommendation of the RNeSU Interview Committee was based on the final phase of the interview process, which involved a trip to Burlington. RNeSU Board Chair Carol Brigham of Whiting, Neshobe Elementary School Principal Judi Pulsifer and one other principal made the trip to speak with school staff, central office staff and others who have worked with Collins over her nine years at the helm of the Burlington district.
Some took issue with the fact that the interview committee’s report to the full RNeSU board on Wednesday was given in executive session, not in open meeting. Brigham said that because it was a personnel and contractual discussion, on the advice of the board’s attorney, the board took the committee report in executive session.
RNeSU Board Vice Chair Dick White added that the board did that in order to protect the people involved.
“It’s to protect the interests of the people who did the reference checks, as well,” he said.
But Pittsford resident Anita Paynter argued that she believed the executive session was illegal and that the Interview Committee’s report should have been given in the open meeting. She requested a written explanation from the board post haste, and Brigham agreed to provide that.
White said the board would issue a press release at the end of the regular meeting expounding more on the interview committee’s finding and recommendation.
That press release came at 10 p.m. and, after the verbiage of the unanimous vote offering the one-year contract, read as follows:
“Collins is a dedicated veteran educational leader, with nine years as a superintendent in Burlington, and 11 years as a director of special education in Burlington and Washington West Supervisory Union. Collins, named Superintendent of the Year in 2011, impressed the board with her comprehensive knowledge of educational issues and passion for successful outcomes for all students.
“The Board chose Collins following a thorough search process which included several interviews, site visits, and over 60 personal and professional reference checks across the state. The Board was impressed by an overwhelmingly positive response from those referenced and believes that RNESU is gaining a strong, positive leader in Ms. Collins. We look forward to her contributions and leadership in advancing our innovative model of education.”
Reached by e-mail following the board’s decision, Collins offered the following statement:
“I am very excited to be joining the RNESU community and look forward to working alongside the talented educators I met during my visit there. I am honored to be given this opportunity.”
Monday’s meeting began at 6:30 p.m. in the library at Otter Valley Union High School, and the first hour was devoted to an explanation of the search and interview process and hearing public input. Only 15 community members attended, many waiting out the executive session to hear the board’s decision.
Sudbury and RNeSU Board member Darlene Kelly, who was on the Interview Committee, said that some of the people the committee spoke to in Burlington were chosen by the board.
“And some of those people sought us out,” she said. “We accessed roughly 60 references from former Burlington School Board members, citizens, vice principals, principals and people at the state level as well. I can say it has been an exhaustive process.”
Kelly also said that it was important to the committee to get a sense of how the Burlington School District compared to RNeSU as far as how it operates.
“We wondered how does our supervisory union compare to the district where this candidate came from, and it’s very different,” Kelly said. “We put out a lot of feelers and got a lot of information and it was a good thing and a positive thing. It gave us the ability to see what our supervisory union needs and where we’re at.”
While a former resident spoke out against hiring Collins and urging the board to re-open the search and appoint an interim superintendent, there was a mix of public input.
Colleen Wright of Sudbury said she had been one of the naysayers until two RNeSU Board members, White and Neshobe School Board Chair Lisa Kenyon, both spoke to her about her concerns.
“After speaking with them, I do not feel that RNeSU would crash and burn under (Collins’) leadership,” Wright said. “I do feel, though, that she needs oversight and supervision.”
Two women made the trip to Brandon from Burlington for the meeting in order to make statements on Collins’ behalf. One was Linda Deliduka. The former president of the Board of Education Association, a member of the Pension Investment Committee and a member of the Vermont State Board of Trustees for Retired Teachers, Deliduka said first that the Burlington School District’s budget woes began long before Collins came on board.
“At least three other superintendents knew about these (deficit) issues,” Deliduka said, echoing Collin’s explanation that outdated software, a business manager who was let go without any transition to the new hire, and a new business manager who was overwhelmed by the old system all played a part in the budget mess.
“She was trying to fly a plane and trying to fix it at the same time,” she said.
But Stacey Pearson of Pittsford said that asking for the public to blindly trust the RNeSU Board is asking too much.
“To hear that this woman was the only candidate was frightening,” she said. “If people don’t have faith in the superintendent, that’s a big problem. We need a leader without baggage.”
OV Board Chair Jim Rademacher, who was originally wary of Collins’ candidacy, disagreed with Pearson and others, supporting the board’s process.
“There’s been no blind trust in this process,” he read from a prepared statement to the board. “Your eyes have been wide open and you have done your due diligence. I know and trust the wisdom you have brought to this process.”
Former RNeSU Superintendent Bill Mathis, who retired in 2009 after 27 years on the job, was involved throughout the Search and Interview committees’ process. He gave the board his full support.
“I have never seen a process this thorough,” he said. “I want to thank the critics for bringing up the issues, and I want to thank the committee for delving into them so deeply.”
At the end of the night, the last issued that seemed to remain unresolved was that the public was not privy to the Interview Committee’s report.