MONTPELIER — The Agency of Education is reviewing its priorities and deciding what services it will no longer be able to offer after losing staff members to a retirement incentive program.
As the agency works to implement Act 46, the state’s new school district merger law, it is doing so with five fewer members of its staff, which will leave the agency unable to provide the same services it has in the past, says Education Secretary Rebecca Holcombe.
“There are some things we’re just not going to be able to do,” Holcombe said Tuesday during the monthly meeting of the State Board of Education. “We’ll just have to be highly strategic in how we target our staff.”
Earlier this year, the Shumlin Administration proposed offering financial incentives to encourage employees who were eligible to retire to do so, part of an effort to balance the 2016 state budget.
The offer was open to as many as 300 employees and was projected to save as much as $2.6 million dollars, with the plan contingent upon the requirement that 75 percent of the positions being vacated would remain unfilled.
All told, 221 state workers took the incentives, with a projected savings of $2.2 million. At the Agency of Education, five of the 11 employees eligible for the incentives took them, and while Holcombe requested that two of the positions be refilled, they will all remain vacant.
Among the the employees who retired and will not be replaced is Tom Alderman, who implemented the provisions of Flexible Pathways Program, which allows for high school students to take college courses and creates personalized learning plans for every student.
Other employees include Vaughn Altimus, who provided services for the State Board of Education, which has no staff of its own.
Last month, the State Board of Education sent a letter to the House and Senate finance committees requesting additional staff – both for itself and for the Agency of Education – to implement Act 46.
“We unanimously are of the opinion that if this law is to succeed, and pre-existing requirements of the state board are to be met, we must be properly staffed,” wrote Board Chairman Stephan Morse to Sen. Jane Kitchel, D-Caledonia, and Rep. Mitzi Johnson, D-South Hero. “Further, such staff increments must be added immediately.”
Tuesday, Morse said he had not received a response the letter, but did say he had had an “encouraging” conversation with Rep. David Sharpe, D-Bristol, chairman of the House Education Committee. He also said that, while his board could sure use some staff, the first priority is adequately staffing the Agency of Education.
Wednesday, the House Education Committee is expected to take testimony on Act 46, in anticipation of an upcoming legislative session that could see changes to the law regarding its provision intended to curb spending. Mark Perrin, of Middlebury, who is chairman of the State Board of Education’s Governance Committee, is expected to offer testimony in the need for increased staffing.