BENNINGTON — Southwest Vermont Career Development Center Superintendent Michael Lawler presented the center's FY 2017 budget at their meeting on Monday, which will see tuition remain level, at the cost of some difficult cuts.
"This year's development of the operating budget of the school district for next year has been a challenge for us," said Lawler, "Our initial goal in this year's budget was to keep our tuition flat to our sending districts." One factor that he said was surprisingly difficult to work with when constructing the budget was Act 46, or specifically the spending caps that will affect the districts that send students to the CDC. A desire to minimize tuition increases to sending districts, combined with the center's slightly declining student counts, which are a trend in technical centers across the state, led to some difficult decisions for the financial committee.
"Act 46 limits the amount that school districts can raise their budgets, without being penalized," clarified board chairman Jim Boutin, "The MAU school district, the Manchester school district, and the Arlington school district all have to follow these guidelines, or they are penalized. So, they look to us, of course, to keep this tuition rate as low as possible, so we're not insisting on raising their expenses to the point where they're going over that limit. It's critical that we help them to stay as low as possible, particularly this year, as long as those caps, as we're calling them, are in place."
Across the state issues that are out of districts' control, such as contractual raises, rising healthcare costs, and the costs of implementing universal pre-K, are pushing those districts over the spending thresholds. At the recent Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union legislative breakfast, several legislators confirmed that looking at the spending limits will be one of the first orders of business when the legislative session starts early next year.
"If we had just rolled over our approved budget from last year," explained Lawler, "it would cause a nine percent spending hike to our tuitioning districts. That is not acceptable to me. We are trying to increase enrollment in our center, or at least maintain it, and if it's going to cost more money to send fewer students, that's going to be prohibitive to us." Instead, Lawler proposed a $3,437,005 budget for FY17, down roughly six percent from this current year's budget.
"I don't want to paint a picture of doom and gloom for our center, because that's not where we're at," said Lawler, "But we're kind of in a bubble now, and things are tight." In order to cut the budget, the center is considering continuing to not hire a teacher for their engineering program, saving over $70,000. They will also have to delay the implementation of the Informatics program, saving over $50,000, use reserve funds rather than budgeted funds to replace a section of the roof, which will save $80,000, and restructure their office staff, which will save $32,000. Board member Jackie Kelly asked for clarification about the office staff restructuring, and Lawler confirmed that, yes, if the budget as it exists currently is adopted, someone will lose their job.
"This has been a tall order," said Lawler, "There were a lot of people at the table for these discussions, and we have come to these decisions together, as a team. My whole goal, from the beginning of this, has been to have the least impact on the least amount of people."
The board will vote on the budget at their January meeting. Lawler said that hard copies of the full budget are available on request.