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Career Center offering voters no spending hike

MIDDLEBURY — The Patricia A. Hannaford Career Center board next month will present county voters with a 2019-2020 budget proposal of $3,468,338, which reflects a $186 decline in total spending (compared to this year) for vocational and technical education for area students.
It’s the fourth year in a row that Career Center directors will be pitching a budget reduction to residents in the 17 Addison County communities that send students to the career center. The Career Center serves juniors and seniors in the Addison Northwest, Addison Central and Mount Abraham union school districts.
“I would say it’s a very fair budget,” said Career Center Superintendent Dana Peterson. “The primary focus is on students and their learning opportunities.”
While overall spending is pegged to go down, the estimated tuition rate for enrollees is projected to rise by roughly 3 percent.
“Given what I know about other school districts throughout the state, a 3 percent increase over the previous year is very much in line, if not below some of the others,” Peterson said. “For a tech center, that’s pretty good.”
The amount to be raised by taxes next year is being forecast at $1,633,752, based on a projection of around 123 full-time equivalent (FTE) students. That would translate into a new Career Center tuition rate of $13,289, representing an increase of $390 per FTE student. The state is scheduled to kick in another $8,813 per FTE student, producing a total tuition rate of $22,102.
It should be noted that not all of the Career Center’s students are full-timers; some rotate in from the three high schools to take a specific class or two. There are actually around 350 students taking Hannaford Career Center courses this year, but all of the part-time attendees add up to 123 FTE, Peterson noted.
Tuition costs are based on a six-semester average of students attending the Career Center, Peterson noted.
The Career Center, like most other public schools in the state, is dealing with declining enrollment, and has been for several years. The center’s enrollment has fluctuated from a high of 153 during the fall of 2015, to a low of 111 during the spring of 2017. The six-semester averages during the past four years have been 134, 135, 128 and 123, respectively, according to Peterson.
Through it all, career center leaders have tried to “right-size” the school’s staff and offerings to serve a smaller population.
Peterson said the career center last year lost around 4.5 FTE employees through retirements or departures, in the areas of instructional, administrative support and student support staff. The school hired three new FTE workers, leaving approximately 1.5 FTE spots unfilled.
“We were able to build those savings into the operating budget for this year,” he said.
Those savings, coupled with a reorganization of staff, have allowed the Career Center to expand its offerings — a trend expected to continue next year. The school launched a Computer Science program last fall, and will introduce a Construction Technology course this coming fall, according to Peterson.
Why offer new computer science and construction technology courses? Because the private sector needs workers to fill job vacancies in those areas, Peterson noted. New programs are introduced based on industry demand and are subject to approval by the Vermont Agency of Education and a local program advisory board. The Career Center partners with local industry leaders to help shape course curricula, according to Peterson.
The Career Center’s current course offerings include Industrial Design and Fabrication, Human Services, Automotive Technology, Diesel Power Technology, Medical Professions, Addison Repertory Theater, Culinary Arts, and Engineering and Architecture Design. There are 16 programs in all, as well as an adult education school, according to the career center website.
Career center officials are hoping the budget is heartily endorsed by residents on Town Meeting Day, March 5.
“I think our budget addresses not only what’s fair for taxpayers, but it’s striving to meet the needs of the Addison County and Vermont workforce,” Peterson said.
Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.

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