Jeanne Collins sits next to Burlington school board chair, Patrick Halladay at a recent meeting.
Outgoing Burlington superintendent Jeanne Collins is heading south — the Rutland Northeast Supervisory Union board voted unanimously Wednesday evening to hire her for its top job after carrying out an "over-the-top thorough" review.
Collins came under fire in Burlington after an audit in April uncovered flaws in the district's budgeting procedures. Mayor Miro Weinberger and several city councilors urged the school board to part ways with her, and in early May it did just that. Collins and the Burlington board signed a separation agreement, under which she will depart the district on June 30, two years before the end of her contract, with $225,000 in severance pay.
Carol Brigham, the chair of the RNESU board, said they were well aware of the controversy in Burlington, but after an exhaustive vetting, they concluded she had been "scapegoated" during what became a political maelstrom.
In an email to Seven Days, Brigham explained, "Many on the board were initially skeptical, as are some in our community, due to the controversy surrounding Ms. Collins tenure in Burlington. This is why our interview process was so “over-the-top” thorough, including contacting no less than 60 people in reference to Ms. Collins. The responses we got from folks offered an insight into a political situation in Burlington which, in the opinion of many, has scapegoated Ms. Collins for problems which were largely not her fault and which she was on track to remedy."
There was a surge of resistance among some community members in the Rutland Northeast Supervisory Union, after they learned Collins would be the only candidate considered for the position by the full board. Residents circulated a petition that protested Collins' candidacy on the grounds that she presided over the Burlington school district during a period marked by financial problems. It acquired 250 signatures, some of which came from outside the supervisory union, but did not sway the board.
A statement released by the full RNESU board after its decision noted, "Collins is a dedicated veteran educational leader, with nine years as a superintendent in Burlington VT, 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."
Although Burlington officials have been openly critical about Collins' tenure in Burlington, the RNESU board said it received overwhelming positive feedback from a large number of people.
Its statement continues, "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."
Collins, in statement of her own, remarked, "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."
The board has not yet negotiated the terms of her contact, and its chair, Carol Brigham, declined to disclose the salary level it plans to offer Collins.