Woodford skeptical of change in fees for technology staff

Saturday December 8, 2012

WOODFORD -- The Woodford School District is skeptical of a proposed change in how the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union assesses districts for technology services.

Woodford was the first district presented with the plan Tuesday, but because of the additional costs it faces, the school board talked more about its concerns than any potential benefits. Unfortunately for Woodford, however, if a majority of districts in the supervisory union support the plan, there is likely nothing it can do to avoid paying a share.

Assigned to schools

Currently, technology systems administrators, technicians and so-called integration specialists are designated to specific schools in the supervisory union. The salary for every position is funded through the SVSU budget, but the district where each employee is based is billed by SVSU to pay the expense for salary, benefits and any other costs. Because each employee is ultimately paid for by the district they serve, there is no flexibility to allow administrators to assign that employee to help in another school district if needed.

Technology Director Frank Barnes has proposed changing the funding assessments for 18 positions so that each becomes an SVSU-controlled position. In that scenario, the supervisory union would bill each school district their fair share based on their equalized pupil count. For instance, Woodford School District makes up just 0.81 percent of SVSU's students, so it would pay 0.81 of all technology staff costs, which would be $5,174.

School districts in Bennington, Pownal and Shaftsbury would also see increases in their assessments, while the proposed funding method would have financial benefits for the North Bennington and Mount Anthony Union School Districts.

The efficiencies created by the proposed change could be significant, Barnes said, beginning with better service where needed. The ability to assign staff to schools when issues arise would make for more timely responses and allow employees who have different areas of expertise to be more effectively utilized. The flexibility to assign staff would also decrease the impact of an employee absence, which at smaller schools with just one tech staff member can be troublesome now.

The proposal would also increase the availability of the two technology integration specialists who currently work for Bennington School District and MAU Middle School. (They train teachers in strategies to incorporate technology into the curriculum.) If those positions were SVSU-wide, Barnes said there would be improved coordination across the supervisory union to embed 21st century skills into the curriculum at every school.

Unlike every other district in SVSU, Woodford does not have any technology staff included in the SVSU budget. Instead, it pays a stipend to a teacher to do technology work when needed. For larger problems, Woodford relies on two SVSU senior technology employees, but Barnes said the problem with that is those people are usually busy with more pressing issues. Ideally, Barnes said a technician would be sent to Woodford when problems arise, but because there are no SVSU technicians, the current practice does not allow for that to happen. Because Woodford would not have to wait for a systems administrator, the response time would be quicker under the proposal, although Principal Sandra Foster said she has not experienced hardships with the way the system is now set up.

Wary of costs

The Woodford board acknowledged there appear to be benefits with the proposal but it was wary of the added costs. The board said the costs would be significant for a school district of its size, having fewer than 30 children.

Bennington School District met Wednesday and heard the same presentation from Barnes. While concerns about an added $25,000 cost for BSD were brought up, the board unanimously endorsed the plan.

The ultimate decision will be made later this month by the SVSU board, which is made up of three representatives each from all six member districts.

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


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