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Career Center pegs spending hike at 3.8 percent

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By JOHN FLOWERS

MIDDLEBURY — The Patricia A. Hannaford Career Center (PHCC) board will present county voters on Town Meeting Day with a 2009-2010 spending plan of $3,322,229, representing a 3.8 percent increase compared to the current year’s plan.

The per-pupil, district assessment (tuition rate) for students choosing to attend the PHCC is projected to increase to 5 percent to $10,271 — a hike of $493 per student.

PHCC offers 12 technical and six foundational programs in such things as agriculture, automotive, health careers, culinary arts and theater. The majority of students come from Middlebury, Mount Abraham and Vergennes union high schools, plus some students come from other union high schools and private schools and some are homeschooled.

The $121,620 overall budget increase is primarily associated with contracted salary and benefit increases, according to PHCC Director Lynn Coale. He noted the career center board and its teachers recently ratified a new, four-year agreement through which faculty will receive the same health insurance benefits they currently enjoy, along with annual increase of 4 percent in base pay (see related story). The contract retroactively includes the concluded 2007-2008 academic year.

“We’re certainly seeing increases in salaries reflective of the new master agreement, and an increase in energy costs,” Coale said on Thursday, the day after the PHCC school board approved the 2009-2010 budget proposal.

The main budget drivers, according to Coale, include an additional $118,238 in salary expenses; another $18,908 for “supplies and materials” (largely fuel); and a bump of $21,188 for equipment — primarily new computers, which are part of a five-year technology improvement plan.

But those major drivers are being partially offset by reductions of $10,822 in professional services; $2,673 in contracted services; and $31,924 in “dues, fees and interest,” largely associated with retiring debt on the PHCC’s North Campus facility in Middlebury’s industrial park.

The PHCC currently employs 23 teachers, a number that is maintained in the proposed budget, which will be fielded on March 3 by voters in the Addison Central, Addison Northeast and Addison Northwest supervisory unions.

“We are not expecting any new faculty, staff or administrative cuts, but we are not adding any (new personnel),” Coale said.

The PHCC is at least temporarily bucking the declining enrollment trend being seen at most schools throughout the county and state. The career center is serving 336 full- and part-time students this year, up from 287 last year. That surge, Coale believes, is in part related to the popularity of the PHCC’s automotive, culinary arts and health career programs.

On the other hand, the center recently dropped the business and protective services programs, which had drawn small student numbers.

Coale said he believes the PHCC has done a good job in managing its budget in recent years. He noted the tax affecting portion of the center’s budget in 2006-2007 was $1,467,388 — which is around $4,000 more than the tax-affecting portion of the proposed 2009-2010 spending plan.

It should be noted the 2006-2007 budget included the first, big chunk of debt service for the PHCC’s $4.3 million North Campus facility. That annual debt is gradually declining as the bond is paid off.

Career center officials said the proposed 2009-2010 budget is a responsible one, given the state of the economy.

“Quite honestly, I don’t think this budget reflects what our real needs are,” Coale said. “However, we are also very cognizant of the economic times we’re in. It’s one of the tightest budgets we’ve ever built. I don’t think it is shortchanging programs or students.”

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