Saturday April 27, 2013

ZEKE WRIGHT

Staff Writer

BENNINGTON -- Thirty-three teachers and paraprofessionals employed by the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union may receive layoff notices because of uncertainty surrounding federal funding.

The worst-case scenario affects up to 10 special education teachers, eight "title" teachers (focused strictly on math or reading instruction), and 15 paraprofessionals. The notices are only a warning and are not final.

SVSU Business Manager Richard Pembroke said uncertainty with next year’s funding was "largely sequestration."

Without a clearer idea of revenues for fiscal year 2014 until after the required notification date for layoffs, "by default, we’re forced to do some of the things we don’t plan to do," Pembroke said.

Sequestration affects education next school year

Sequestration is a series of automatic, nearly across-the-board federal spending cuts that went into effect March 1. The cuts could result in the loss of more than $2.5 million for public grade school education in Vermont next year.

But Stephannie Peters, president of the Southwest Vermont Education Association, the local teachers’ union, said she wasn’t sure the notices were necessary. "I’m not sure there’s evidence that federal funding won’t come through," Peters said Friday.

The SVSU board approved the motion for the Reduction in Force, or RIF, notice at Wednesday’s meeting.


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Superintendent Catherine McClure said the teachers’ collective bargaining agreement required teacher notification on or before May 15, while paraprofessionals would need to be notified by June 3.

"With the unknown status of the (Bennington School District) budget, as well as the possible reduction in the federal funds the SVSU receives in the 2013-14 school year, we must consider these reductions," McClure said. "We are going as deep as we feel we need to go until we know our funding from the federal government."

The BSD budget was rejected by voters on March 5. The BSD board is expected to warn a revised spending plan for next year on Wednesday.

McClure said the RIF notice served as a warning, "and as budgets are passed and we see where we are, (the staff served notices) have a recall right back."

"We’ve had to do this once before in the last couple years," SVSU Chairwoman Sean-Marie Oller said, "and we hope the money comes back so we don’t have to do this."

"This is a ‘just in case,’" she continued.

Of those included in Wednesday’s RIF notice, it is certain that one special education teacher and six to seven paraprofessionals will be let go because of the North Bennington Graded School becoming independent next fall.

Pembroke said a preliminary award of federal revenues, including Title I and II funds, Medicaid, and Indicator-Based Assessment (IBA) funding, was expected the third week of May. But "we’re under the impression we won’t get any real numbers until July."

Union not sure notices warranted

Peters called the notices "extremely unfortunate."

On Friday, Peters said she had not heard of large reduction notices resulting from sequestration from union colleagues elsewhere, a view shared by Darren Allen, communications director for the statewide Vermont National Education Association union.

"We have more children with more needs than ever," Peters said, adding that the notices would cause qualified staff to seek other jobs, whether or not layoffs took place. "Once again at the SVSU we’re doing things unprecedented that have negative impacts."

The SVSU board also approved an administrative change Wednesday per the recommendation of a Personnel Committee. Oller said that committee suggested a new assistant superintendent for curriculum instruction position, replacing a currently vacant but funded coordinator position.

Oller and Mark Tilley, an alternate Woodford representative on the SVSU, said the restructuring would be cost-neutral.

The change "would definitely be a better structure and help in an area where it’s definitely needed," Tilley said.

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