Wednesday April 10, 2013

DAWSON RASPUZZI

Staff Writer

BENNINGTON -- The Southwest Vermont Career Development Center voted to reduce its business manager to half time and eliminate technical English this fall at a contentious meeting Monday.

A cut that was not made, even though it had previously been discussed, was the Co-op program.

The decision to reduce the business manager position -- made easier by last month’s announcement that Business Manager Greg Lewis will retire in June -- was unanimous by the board and received no opposition from the handful of teachers in the audience.

Director James Culkeen’s next recommendation to eliminate technical English as a way to save money that can then be designated elsewhere, such as restarting an agriculture program, received much more debate before passing by a 4-3 vote with two board members abstaining.

Three teachers, including Technical English teacher Barbara Gorbaty, spoke about the importance of the technical center offering an English program that aligns with state standards and often allows students from outside of Mount Anthony Union High School to attend the technical center for other courses.

About 95 percent of CDC’s students are from MAUHS, with which it shares a building, but the students who come from other high schools for CDC programs often take technical English out of necessity because of scheduling conflicts. Without technical English, Gorbaty said, those students will likely not come to the CDC.

Kathy Slade, who teaches medical professions, argued the same point.

"The students who come to us from Arlington, BBA, (and) Grace Christian are taking tech English. They will not be able to get their English requirements for graduation if we eliminate tech English. If tech English is cut, we will lose those students. Every program’s numbers will go down," Slade said.

Culkeen said his recommendation to cut technical English was "basically a numbers decision" based on a declining enrollment that has fallen from 43 in 2011 to 12 in the fall and 18 this semester.

"What that generates for full time equivalence for this school year for this district is 3.75 full time equivalence," Culkeen said.

The actual number counted by the state is even lower, Culkeen said, because the students who come from schools outside of Mount Anthony cannot be counted for reimbursement by the state if they are enrolled in two other CDC programs because there is a maximum of 220 minutes CDC may count.

Culkeen was asked by the school board months ago to recommend reductions that would save about $80,000, or enough to hire a teacher to start a new program such as agriculture, which the board cut two years ago but has tried to bring back at Mount Anthony Union Middle School.

"I was charged to come up with recommendations for cuts, and I looked for cuts that will have the least impact, in my opinion, on the center," Culkeen said.

Some members of the board wavered on that direction Monday, even after the Education Committee agreed to recommend the reductions at its meeting prior to the full board meeting. During the full meeting, Education Chairman Edward Letourneau said he wished to table the decision a month to see if the CDC may recruit more students to take the program.

"Let’s do some recruiting and see what we can do. And then, if it’s impossible to (get enough students) to cover its cost, then I think it would be legitimate to reduce it or eliminate it. I’m not comfortable voting yes on this tonight," Letourneau said. Letourneau went on to say new programs have traditionally been funded with federal grant money and he was unsure why the board was now looking to find funds for a new program by eliminating another.

Letourneau’s statements caused fellow board member Francis Kinney to erupt and others to question why the board directed Culkeen to find cuts if it was not going to make the cuts he recommended.

"We already discussed what we wanted to do in there, now you come out here and you change your mind? Come on, that’s ridiculous," Kinney yelled. "We (told) the superintendent what we wanted done and now you want to come out here and throw him under the bus? I’m not going to do that. We already had this discussion."

Reducing the business manager to part time was a recommendation of a recent study of business functions at CDC. "It looked at our operations, how many purchase (requisitions) we handle on a daily basis, how many warrants we handle, the size of our payroll, and how that compares to other school operations of our size," Culkeen said. "The recommendation from that study was to reduce the business manager position to part time."

On average, Culkeen said, the business manager handles two purchase requisitions per day and he said he has confidence the job can be done by a half-time position. With the help of Lewis, Culkeen said a new job description is in the process of being drafted.

"It will not be without difficulty. There will be changes obviously in what we do. We might have to look at how we do payroll, which we currently do in-house, and go to a payroll service, whether that would be more cost efficient," Culkeen said.

The school board asked Culkeen to first offer the position to the current business manager assistant, however Culkeen said based on previous conversations he does not believe she wants the position. The Education Committee agreed it would prefer to offer her the position first because of her experience, even though she does not hold a college degree, which would be a requirement in the job search for anybody else. If the assistant does not take it, the half-time position will be advertised to be filled by an individual or contracted out.

Culkeen told the Education Committee he was pulling what was going to be his third recommendation to eliminate the co-op school to work coordinator position based on movement in the state to put more emphasis on those types of programs. Co-op has had low enrollment, but Culkeen said he would like to change the job description and give the program another year to improve. He also said CDC will save enough money to start a new program by electing not to fill the attendance clerk position after that person recently resigned.

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