TOWNSHEND—Just as complicated Act 46 merger talks begin in earnest, three key administrators are leaving Windham Central Supervisory Union.
In addition to the previously announced, pending departure of Superintendent Steven John, the union also is losing Chief Financial Officer Victor “Bud” DeBonis and Leland & Gray Union Middle and High School Principal Dorinne Dorfman at the end of this fiscal year.
John is retiring after 46 years in education, while DeBonis and Dorfman are taking new positions in northern Vermont.
In spite of the administrative turnover and the Act 46 uncertainty, officials are predicting a relatively smooth transition in the nine-town union. For John, that means working closely with his successor and meeting with school boards to reassure members that a plan is in place.
“There’s no reason for any concerns about keeping the trains rolling,” John said. “And we’ll keep moving ahead.”
“We’ll just be attending a lot of meetings,” he added.
Even before Vermont enacted a new education-governance law in 2015, John had a full schedule of meetings throughout the sprawling supervisory union. But Act 46, which pushes for formation of larger, consolidated school districts by 2019, has ensured that the superintendent can’t slow down as he nears his June 30 retirement.
Due to the complexity of the supervisory union — there are 12 boards and eight schools in all, including a five-town union that forms the Leland & Gray District — officials decided last year that they wouldn’t pursue the most-aggressive “accelerated” merger schedule under Act 46.
That means potential merger studies are just now taking shape in Windham Central. At a March 29 meeting, representatives of the Leland & Gray union boards talked about possible merger options including formation of a new, unified pre-K-12 district in Brookline, Jamaica, Newfane, Townshend and Windham.
But no decisions were made about which option to study. And the supervisory union’s other towns — Dover, Marlboro, Stratton and Wardsboro — have been conducting their own Act 46 inquiries.
“This is a long road,” Stephen Dale, an Act 46 consultant, told board members at the March 29 session in Townshend. “And this is very early on in the process.”
Nonetheless, John said Act 46 “is really the dominant issue on the agenda” for all of Windham Central’s school boards. And the supervisory union’s incoming superintendent, Dover School Principal Bill Anton, said he is confident that “we’re all having the same types of conversations” about the future of education in the area.
Taking over the superintendent’s spot in the midst of such changes “would be a lot more daunting if the capacity of the boards and the capacity of the principals was not as high as it is,” Anton said.
The transition also is eased by the fact that Anton has known for the past year that he is succeeding John. That lead time has allowed him to get involved in supervisory union administration. “[John] goes out of his way to make sure that I am part and parcel of any kind of decision,” Anton said.
There are a few more big decisions still left for John due to the planned departures of DeBonis and Dorfman.
DeBonis took over as Windham Central’s chief financial officer in 2014 and is leaving for a position in Orleans Southwest Supervisory Union. “What he has learned here and what he has been able to do here will be an asset to any other district in Vermont,” John said.
It is possible that there may not be another chief financial officer hired in Windham Central. John said he is developing a plan for filling the position that he expects to disclose next month.
“His departure presents the superintendent with an opportunity to examine the function of various people in the central office, particularly related to business and finance,” John said.
Filling Dorfman’s position is a more straightforward matter, and John said the application period closed April 15. “We have a committee that will review the resumes,” he said. “We have quite a large applicant pool.”
John said he would like to be able to announce a new Leland & Gray principal hiring by mid-May. But officials said it will be difficult to replace Dorfman, who is credited with enhancing everything from the school’s curriculum to its food services.
Emily Long, a longtime Leland & Gray and Windham Central board member, said Dorfman has emphasized the importance of consistency throughout the supervisory union.
“I can’t help but feel fortunate that we’ve been able to keep her this long,” Long said. “She’s worked really hard to make sure that we are looking at it as a pre-K-through-12 education system, and I feel grateful for her doing that. I think it has kept us focused.”
Dorfman is taking an administrative position with Burlington School District, where she will be closer to family. During her time at Leland & Gray, she has stayed in Townshend during the week but has maintained a home in Waterbury.
Looking back at her six years at the helm of the regional junior-senior high school, Dorfman ranked two accomplishments highest — starting a free dental clinic for kids, and enhancing the school’s advanced-placement and dual-enrollment offerings.
“One of the things I’m most proud of is the steady increase in the number of students enrolled in the most challenging courses, and increasing the number of challenging courses,” Dorfman said.
Overall, “I’ve developed some really meaningful relationships here,” she said. “So I’m really going to miss the students and their families and the elementary school principals I’ve been working with.”
Dorfman last year expressed concern about Act 46’s potential impacts on the Leland & Gray union. But she says such concerns weren’t a factor in her decision to leave the district.
In fact, Dorfman said she left the March 29 Act 46 meeting feeling that there was a great deal of support for maintaining that union. “I’m thrilled, because what we have at Leland & Gray, our students are not going to get anywhere else,” Dorfman said.