SVSU CFO placed on administrative leave


BENNINGTON >> Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union's chief financial officer, Rick Pembroke, has been placed on paid administrative leave, according to Superintendent Jim Culkeen.

Culkeen said he could not comment why Pembroke is on leave.

In Pembroke's absence, Mary Buak, a longtime SVSU employee who is listed as an accounting manager on the finance department's website, is the acting business manager, Culkeen said.

Culkeen would not confirm the length of the leave or if it's indefinite. Pembroke continues to be paid while on leave. His salary is approximately $110,000 annually.

Pembroke was hired as SVSU's business officer in 2005 and was named CFO in 2012.

A source close to the situation said that Pembroke's placement on administrative leave was the reason why the Bennington School District took the actions it did at its meeting last week. The board voted to explore seceding from the SVSU, which is made up of Bennington, Pownal, Shaftsbury, North Bennington, Woodford, and the Mount Anthony Union districts, and to, in the event that such an action turns out to be legally impossible, explore taking legal action to ensure that Bennington receives proportional representation on the MAU and SVSU boards. Despite the fact that Bennington accounts for two-thirds of the students in the supervisory union, it has only two members on the 11-member SVSU board and four on the 11-member MAU board.

After an executive session, the board reconvened and also voted "no confidence" in Culkeen and Assistant Superintendent Donna Leep, although they did not comment on their reasons for doing so, outside of stating that the two had taken recent actions that were detrimental to the Bennington School District.

Bennington board members Ken Swierad and Jackie Prue on Monday said that they could not comment on the situation. Other board members did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The finance department at the SVSU has five staff members, not including Pembroke, and handles accounts payable, purchase orders, accounts receivable, bids, budgets and contracts, budget transfers, faculty and staff reimbursements, facilities use and maintenance, grants, insurance, meal programs, purchasing, student transportation, and warrants

Culkeen was hired by the SVSU board in May 2014, after serving as superintendent of the Southwest Vermont Regional Technical School District, which operates the Career Development Center, since 2011. He was first hired to teach, and later became acting principal, and eventually superintendent of Montachusett Regional Vocational Technical School in Fitchburg, Massachusetts, where he was superintendent for eight years.

Culkeen found himself in the middle of what he described as a "political quagmire" at the Fitchburg school after he placed a newly hired principal on administrative leave, which caused him to resign from the position in December 2010. According to a Dec. 3, 2010, report in the Worcester Telegram & Gazette, the principal had been put on leave after trying to mediate a dispute between Culkeen and his daughter, a former student.

Pembroke is the son of Richard "Dick" Pembroke, a longtime legislator from Bennington. He could not be reached for comment.

Derek Carson can be reached for comment at 802-447-7567, ext. 122.


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