Hannaford board eyes program cuts

MIDDLEBURY — The Patricia Hannaford Career Center (PHCC) board on Dec. 14 will consider a 2012-2013 budget that reflects a 2.41-percent spending increase and the proposed elimination of two courses.
The budget as laid out by administrators recommends spending of $3,424,116 next year, representing an $80,733 boost compared to this year’s spending plan. The PHCC offers technical, workplace and continuing education to secondary school-age students in the Addison Central, Addison Northeast and Addison Northwest supervisory unions.
The PHCC’s tuition rate would increase by 4.4 percent ($383 per full-time enrollee) under the budget currently under review.
Career center Director Lynn Coale said the draft budget does not include any major new initiatives. Rather, it eliminates two courses — video technology and sustainable landscapes — in order to help keep spending in line. Those proposed cuts are drawing sharp protests from some instructors, students, members of the public and representatives of the Middlebury Education Association (MEA) teachers’ union.
“These changes seem regressive in a 21st century of video, where students love the medium and educators are being asked (and demanded) to included more and more communication technology in instruction and assessment,” said Bjarki Sears, MEA president and a teacher at Middlebury Union High School.
Coale noted he was originally asked by the career center school board to limit the 2012-2013 spending increase to 2 percent. That proved to be a difficult task, he said, given recent and projected enrollment and funding trends.
First, he said the PHCC abided by the Legislature’s “Challenges for Change” directive last year that all Vermont school districts reduce their 2011-2012 budgets by 1.5 percent. In the meantime, Coale said, some long-term employees who had been on leave have come back, and their contracted salary obligations remain.
“Part of the reason we have a 2.4-percent increase this year is because we had a 1.5-percent decrease last year,” Coale said.
Challenges for Change also requested that each school district develop a minimum class size, according to Coale. The PHCC developed a minimum class size of 12 full-time-equivalent students. Any program that wasn’t at the minimum was asked to write an improvement plan to justify its continuation through a different delivery model, team teaching or other method, according to Coale.
The PHCC’s video tech program has had 10.14 full-time-equivalent students this year and sustainable landscapes has had 8.86 FTEs.
“Why were these programs eliminated?” Coale said. “One, they had the low numbers. And two, we already know pretty close to what those numbers are going to be next year… And they are going to be lower next year.”
He acknowledged some other courses at the career center have numbers lower than 12 — such as in the engineering field — but he added those courses have been revamped under the heading of “science, technology, engineering and mathematics.”
“We are wanting to give them time to develop ‘green construction’ kinds of programming, where there are some high-paying jobs in Vermont right now,” Coale said.
Coale added that video tech “is a very expensive” program to run, with an $11,000 budget and another $4,000 to $5,000 in required computer purchases.
Coale said he is confident that students who had planned to return to the two programs on the chopping block for next year could be absorbed within other courses at the career center, such as arts and humanities (for video tech students) or agricultural offerings (for sustainable landscapes students).
“These are never easy decisions,” Coale said.
Tim O’Leary, an English teacher at MUHS, said he is concerned that the decision to cut the two programs is not being done with enough input from the public and represents some ill-advised spending priorities.
“The PHCC director is asking to raise its taxpayer-funded budget by 2.4 percent next year, but the career center will offer two less programs than it currently does,” O’Leary said. “I’d like the board to discuss their rationale to increase spending and lower student offerings in open session at the next board meetings.”
O’Leary said the career center is spending a combined total of $310,889 on four administrative positions for a school that, at any one time, has around 150 students on campus.
“I question whether these top-heavy expenditures are more important than offering creative outlets for students to explore their own educational interests,” he said.
Coale argued that the career center has not increased numbers of administrative staff since it became autonomous from the ACSU six years ago. And he said administrative staff salaries “have not kept pace with everybody else in the building.”
The proposed budget calls for an average 2-percent increase in administrative salaries, compared to a little over 3 percent for faculty and around 3.5 percent for teaching assistants and paraprofessionals, according to PHCC Business Manager Mark Bouvier.
The current PHCC teachers’ contract extends another two years, according to Bouvier. He added health insurance costs — an often volatile variable in calculating budgets — are pegged to rise between 3 percent and 5 percent next year.
The budget reflects a 0.75-percent decrease in faculty positions and an increase of two full-time-equivalent teaching assistants, according to Coale.
Career center officials noted that past PHCC budgets have been helped by increasing enrollment. The center has had increases of around five FTE students during each of the past four years, according to Coale.
Projected enrollment for next year is around 160 FTE students, about two more than this year.
“That is starting to level off, recognizing the decreasing enrollment in the three supervisory unions we serve,” Coale said.
He added state and federal grant money is not expected to be as abundant next year — around $32,000 less — thereby taking a toll on the PHCC bottom line. The center will also lose about $30,000 in rental income that had come from Vermont Technical College renting a portion of the PHCC’s North Campus.
The PHCC’s Dec. 14 meeting is slated to begin at 5 p.m. at the center on Charles Avenue.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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