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Ex-Superintendent Cited in Vermont 'Ghost Class' Scheme

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Stephen S. Kaagan, commissioner of education in Vermont, has asked the state board of education to revoke the teaching certificate of George A. Sleeman, former superintendent of the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union, for his alleged role in a "ghost class" scandal that has rocked the school district and the town of Bennington.

If the board approves Mr. Kaagan's petition, Mr. Sleeman would be the seventh--and highest-ranking--educator to lose his license to teach as a result of the scandal.

The former superintendent of the Springfield school district agreed last month to surrender his license for a year. Two assistant superintendents and three teachers have also been decertified temporarily or permanently.

All were employed by the supervisory union, a group of districts surrounding Bennington.

Local College Involved

The scandal revolves around a continuing-education program at Castleton State College in Bennington. State officials have charged that between 1980 and 1983 district and college officials arranged to pay instructors and award teachers and administrators credit toward recertification for classes that did not exist.

After an internal investigation, the college last year revised the transcripts of 41 students in the program who had received course credits "that had not been legitimately earned." The probe also found that at least 15 of the students were still employed as teachers and administrators in the Bennington-area supervisory union.

According to Mr. Kaagan's petition, Mr. Sleeman, who resigned in 1985 after 13 years as superintendent, received credit for continuing-education courses that had not met; awarded recertification credits to teachers for courses that had required no work; and arranged to pay ostensible instructors for continuing-education classes that did not exist.

Any of the counts against Mr. Sleeman, Mr. Kaagan said, "would, in my view, constitute grounds for decertification standing alone."

Mr. Sleeman also faces embezzlement charges stemming from an investigation by the state attorney general of a $2-million deficit in the school district's budget. Four other district officials have been convicted on criminal charges arising from the probe.

Charges Denied

The former superintendent's lawyer, William Sessions, said last week that Mr. Sleeman was "not guilty of the charges," and added that Mr. Sleeman had offered to surrender his certification voluntarily.

"George does not intend to be superintendent again, nor does he intend to teach again," Mr. Sessions said.

Mr. Sessions said he was exploring ways to block a hearing on Mr. Kaagan's petition before the state board.

"It's not that [Mr. Sleeman] is reluctant to have a hearing," Mr. Sessions said. "But he faces criminal charges. The publicity that stems from those charges makes it impossible that he could ever find a fair and impartial jury in Vermont."

Mr. Kaagan said he expected to seek disciplinary action against others implicated in the ghost-class incident by the time the state education department completes its two-year investigation of the matter later this year.

"At that time, we'll have a handle on the extent of this," Mr. Kaagan said. "We'll know who was involved as major actors, who was involved as minor actors, and who a lot of the victims were."

It is "unlikely," he added, that any further abuses in the continuing-education program are taking place.

"The paranoia runs pretty high," he said. "This has heightened the awareness in Vermont of professional standards."

"There is an upside to every downside," he said.

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