Thursday December 20, 2012

DAWSON RASPUZZI

Staff Writer

BENNINGTON -- Southwest Vermont Career Development Center is looking at a 3 percent increase to its fiscal year 2014 budget, but the impact it would have on tuition rates would be an 8 percent hike.

The bottom line of the budget draft presented by the Finance Committee to the full board Monday is up less than $100,000, from $3,428,000 to $3,521,000. The modest spending increase has a more significant impact on the tuition rates though because of a decline in enrollment that has been forecasted since last year.

Under the current fiscal 2014 draft, student tuition rates would increase $950, from $11,710 up to $12,660.

Mount Anthony Union High School, which makes up about 95 percent of the technical center's enrollment, would be required to pay an additional $65,000 next year if the draft proposed to the board is approved.

The board was asked by Business Manager Greg Lewis to hold off voting on the proposal until Jan. 3 after the state finalizes the full time equivalent (FTE) student enrollment numbers the district will be reimbursed for. While they did not vote, the board did appear content with the proposal and did not asked the committee to make any more changes.

Technical centers in Vermont calculate enrollment on a three-year rolling average. Because enrollment over the past two years has been lower than the two prior to that, CDC's FTEs dropped from 199 students this year to 191 in fiscal 2014. This semester's FTE is 190, up from 163 in the spring.

The budget presented to the board Monday is in its seventh draft version and has already cut $175,000. At the previous Finance Committee meeting the budget showed a 4.4 percent increase, which the committed asked administration to bring back at 3 percent. Since that time the budget was reduced $43,000 by eliminating all requests for replacement text books, locally funded field trips and instructional videos.

The reduction of field trips, which was about $6,000, will mostly eliminate "smaller day trips," Director James Culkeen said and not impact annual trips to Future Business Leaders competitions or Skills USA trips that are funded through revenue from the school store and federal grants.

Lines in the most recent draft that make up the majority of the budget increase include employee benefits, which is up $57,000 due to a 14 percent health insurance rate increase, $45,000 for technology services largely due to hiring another staff member, and $26,000 for building maintenance largely due to benefit increases.

Other increases include $9,000 in the business office to purchase new disaster recovery software, $10,000 for utilities, and $6,000 for supplies.

Helping defray taxpayer expense is a $23,000 increase in the fund balance to be applied to next year's budget as revenue.

Lewis and others on the board pointed out that CDC's budget in recent years has been nearly flat so there is little else that can be cut.

"Including the 3 percent increase you have before you the average percentage increase since fiscal year 2010 equals only 1.78 percent," Lewis said.

The budget does not include money to revitalize the agriculture program the board eliminated prior to the 2011-12 school year. At the time the board agreed it would continue to develop a curriculum in hopes of bringing it back.

Chairman Jim Boutin said the Agriculture Advisory Committee was asked if they wanted to make a proposal to the board but nobody from the committee has done so.

Although there is not money for agriculture, Culkeen said there is a possibility funds could be shifted in the budget to offer a single agriculture course next year.

"I am not done looking for areas we could cut the budget but not cut the bottom line -- so reposition money within the budget. If we wanted to start a short block agricultural class we got to look at efficiencies within the budget, but there's no new monies for it," Culkeen said.

The proposed budget assumes the Legislature will not change the base education spending rate.

"The Legislature is not going to set the base education spending amount until they go back in January ... if that (rate) changes after the budget gets passed we'll come back with a recommendation to the board and once again we'll lower the tuition to sending districts," Lewis told the Finance Committee prior to the full board meeting.

Because the Legislature changed that rate this past January after CDC approved a budget the technical center ended up giving back about $35,000 to districts, Lewis said.

Contact Dawson Raspuzzi at draspuzzi@benningtonbanner.com or follow on Twitter @DawsonRaspuzzi