Focusing on those who need 'the highest level of intervention'

Friday February 15, 2013

Editor's note: This is the second in a three-part series on plans to close the Community High School of Vermont and how the state hopes to streamline and improve services it provides to students CHSVT educates.

BRATTLEBORO -- In an effort to reduce costs, state agencies have been asked to look at how they conduct business and find ways to eliminate duplication or unneeded services.

For the Vermont Department of Corrections, one way to reduce costs is overhauling its educational system, but that could result in the closure of the 11 "street" campuses of the Community High School of Vermont, one of which is in Brattleboro.

In addition to the street campuses, DOC has "entire schools inside each of our facilities," said Wilhemina Picard, the director of Corrections Education for the DOC, with teaching staff of between four and 11 teachers at each unit.

Most of CHSVT's students are presently under the supervision of the DOC, whether serving out their sentences inside a state facility or in the community on probation or parole.

If DOC pushes ahead with bringing all its classrooms back "inside the walls" and closing down the street campuses, it will save the department $600,000, said Lisa Menard, DOC's deputy commissioner.

Picard looked at whether some of the savings could come from consolidating or eliminating administrative positions or through attrition. But those cuts weren't deep enough, she said.

Now she is focused on the delivery of education inside the prison walls and transitioning inmates into the community when their terms are up.

"We are trying to make sure at the core of this we don't lose what we are meant to do -- work with students who can't make it anywhere else," said Picard.

"We are focusing on folks who need the highest level of intervention," said Menard.

But that means students not under the supervision of the DOC who found their way to CHSVT will have to find another education provider.

The DOC receives an allocation via the state's education fund to pay for students under DOC's supervision, but must negotiate with supervisory unions to receive any funding for those not under its supervision.

"Our allocations are covering DOC students and taking in the ‘throw-away' students," said Picard. "We've been willing to take on that responsibility."

"If the district agreed with the placement, the district could forward those funds to them," said John Fischer, deputy commissioner of the Vermont Agency of Education.

But if the supervisory unions don't approve of the placement, funding decisions are between the students, their families and the CHSVT campuses, he said.

Chris Kibbe, the superintendent of Windham Northeast Supervisory Union, said his budget doesn't have a line item specifically for students at Bellows Falls Union High School who attend CHSVT.

And BFUHS Principal Chris Hodsden said he is not aware of any of his former students who are taking classes at CHSVT.

"We don't have a lot of interaction with Community High School," said Hodsden. "I don't know of anyone (from BFUHS) that is there, but that doesn't mean no one is."

Menard said prior to Community High School, "throw-away" students went to community-based adult learning.

They used different programs to receive their GEDs or even went back to their old high schools, she said, adding the state will be looking to reimplement a similar process, which is still under discussion.

"We are not going to turn our backs on our clients," said Menard. "We will assist them in any way we can short of providing a physical building."

A plan will be made with those community students already enrolled to ensure they continue to receive the services they need to complete their education, said Picard.

Peter van Wageningen, who has been with the Brattleboro campus of CHSVT since 2004 and is retiring this year, said there's a simpler solution

"The state sends an amount per student to each supervisory union," he said. "Then, school districts encourage certain students to drop out and come to us. They keep the money, we get nothing. We should tuition students from public high schools, pro rated for when they come to us in the school year. This is only fair and would be simple to do."

That option may be discussed with the Legislature, but for now the plan is to call on another agency, such as Vermont Adult Learning, to assume responsibility for the students not under DOC's supervision.

That fits right into the vision Gov. Peter Shumlin has for streamlining the system, said Armando Vilaseca, the secretary of Vermont's Department of Education. He told the Reformer VAL serves a similar population.

"So what we're looking at is, can we find savings by having the community high school outreach services merge with our adult-education system we have around the state. It's more efficient use of tax dollars."

Shumlin said the proposal calls for combining two programs into one delivery system.

"Right now, we have two separate administrative entities for the same goal. We'd like to get that down to one. Not reducing the services provided, but providing a more efficient delivery system."

In Saturday's Reformer, can Vermont Adult Learning accommodate "throw-away" students who need more than just help with classwork?

Bob Audette can be reached at, or at 802-254-2311, ext. 160. Follow Bob on Twitter @audette.reformer.


If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.

Powered by Creative Circle Media Solutions