Much of the work I am doing builds on what Crystal Barton (my predecessor) built originally. We have a theme she developed called Variations Template Theme (VTT), which provides the base for our UNC Charlotte themes. Alex Chapin and I have had several discussions about where to take VTT and how to continue development.
Currently our site themes are built by taking VTT, a child theme, and a variation from a plugin.
VTT (Parent Theme) -> UNC Charlotte Faculty Staff (Child Theme) -> UNC Charlotte Variations (Plugin)
The child theme primarily allows specific variations from the plugin. I proposed that we change this however, due to some quirks in how files are loaded by WordPress: CSS files are additive, however template files are loaded as first found.
CSS: Parent -> Child -> Plugin –Load all of these and combine them.
Template Files: Child -> Plugin -> Parent –Load the first template file only.
I think a better way to use VTT is to eliminate the plugin so that we only have VTT and the child theme. Then we can control variation options via a setting within the theme. In WordPress this setting is entered in the theme_mod record in the wp_options table in the database.