Lawrence schools planning expanded career and technical education

The Lawrence school board hopes to finalize plans for an upcoming bond election, including plans for expanding career and technical education programs, when the board holds a special meeting this week.

The board meets at 7 p.m. Monday at the district office, 110 McDonald Drive.

Rick Henry, career and technical education specialist for the district, updated the board last week about the kinds of career and technical programs that officials would like to offer by forming partnerships with area community and technical colleges to teach classes at a facility in Lawrence.

Those programs include health sciences, machine technology, computer networking and commercial construction. Those would be in addition to the culinary arts program currently offered at the facility. Officials estimated the cost of launching those programs at about $4.4 million.

Those programs would also be in addition to the career and technical education classes already offered within the district at the two high schools.

“In talking with high school administrators, and some middle school administrators as well, we’ve selected some programs that have a good market outlook and things that we feel are needed and are necessary in our area and we feel would appeal to our students,” Henry said in an interview.

District officials say there is wide recognition now that a high school diploma is no longer enough to qualify someone to enter the workforce. The vast majority of jobs today, even those in mechanical and industrial trades, require at least some amount of post-secondary education or technical training.

In 2012, according to administrators at Free State and Lawrence high schools, about half of the graduating class went on to attend a four-year college, and about 25 percent went to a two-year community college or technical school, with many of them indicating plans to eventually get a four-year degree.

But that leaves about 25 percent of students who will still need some kind of additional training after high school to qualify for most entry-level career positions.

But two recent events have made that more feasible: passage this year of a career and technical education initiative, which essentially provides free tuition for high school students to enroll in certain kinds of post-secondary career programs; and a new willingness by Kansas University to allow other post-secondary schools to offer programs within Douglas County, as long as they don’t duplicate programs already offered by KU.

The career and technical education project is only a small part of the bond proposal that is mainly focused on upgrading elementary schools and providing enhanced technology throughout the district. Last week, the board received estimates ranging from $85 million to $105 million for the entire list of projects.

The elementary school enhancements alone account for an estimated $70.5 million of those costs.

The school board plans to place the bond issue on the April 2 election ballot for voter approval.