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Hannaford Career Center’s tuition rate slated for 14.7 percent increase

MIDDLEBURY — Patricia A. Hannaford Career Center directors are proposing a 2015-2016 spending plan of $3,496,478, reflecting a 2.24-percent increase over this year’s budget.
Despite the relatively small spending increase, the budget would result in a 14.7 percent boost in the tuition rate for enrollees from the three Addison County high schools for which the career center provides technical education programs.
Career center Executive Director Lynn Coale said the proposed tuition rate of $20,244 is roughly $2,000 more than this year’s rate and is a consequence of a recent pattern of declining enrollment at the school, which has two buildings in Middlebury. He explained the career center is funded based on a six-semester average of full-time equivalent students. The past six semesters have yielded an average enrollment of only around 124 students at the career center, which serves the 17 Addison County communities that feed Mount Abraham, Middlebury and Vergennes union high schools.
The career center rebounded nicely this fall with an enrollment of approximately 148 full-time equivalent students, but that was not enough to have a big impact on the six-semester average, Coale explained.
“Once you get three or four semesters with low enrollment, they stick with you for a long time,” he said of the influence demographics can have on budgeting based on a six-semester average.
The Addison Central Supervisory Union would feel the biggest impact from the proposed tuition increase. That’s because MUHS is responsible for the largest proportion (around 60 percent) of career center enrollees. Consequently, current projections call for the ACSU’s career center assessment to rise from the current $680,835 to $784,798, according to figures provided by the ACSU central office.
But the property tax impact of the career center budget should be “negligible” on residents who help subsidize the technical high school, according to Coale. That’s in part because the tax-affecting portion of the roughly $3.5 million budget is to be absorbed among taxpayers of 17 towns, he noted.
The career center is funded through a combination of state grants and local assessments. The career center’s 2015-2016 budget proposal calls for the $20,244 tuition rate to be financed through $8,229 in state funds and $12,015 from the local assessments.
Coale said the career center’s overall spending plan does not include any new instructors or programs and essentially maintains current offerings. The career center has a workforce of 34 full-time teachers and staff. It offers vocation education in such fields as agriculture; science, technology, engineering and math, otherwise known as STEM; automotive repair and technology; business administration; and the arts. The center also runs culinary and theater programs, and operates a separate adult technical education program subsidized through user fees.
Salaries and benefits are the major drivers for the current budget proposal, Coale noted. The career center recently negotiated a new collective bargaining agreement with its teachers and staff.
“If you look at our trend lines, we haven’t had any big increases in the tuition or budgets lines during the past 10 years,” Coale said, noting career center spending increases during that timespan have largely been at or near 3 percent.
While the new spending plan does not include new programs, Coale said career center officials will put a lot of effort into increasing the rigor of courses already in place. The career center will also reach out to local girls in grades 3 to 8 to get them interested in STEM classes. The career center is working with the University of Vermont to get female STEM students to serve as mentors in the career center classes.
Coale is also working to have an increasing number of career center courses qualify for college credits.
“By 2020, it’s estimated that 80 percent of all jobs will require a post-secondary education,” he said.
Local residents will have a chance to weigh in on the career center budget at the school’s annual meeting, set for Wednesday, Feb. 25, at 7 p.m. at the career center. Residents in the 17 sending towns will vote on the spending plan by Australian ballot on Town Meeting Day, Tuesday, March 3.
Career center officials are hoping for a good Town Meeting Day turnout and a favorable vote.
“Our board spent a lot of time developing a budget that is reasonable in providing a robust program in technical education to the students of Addison County,” Coale said.
Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.

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