For years — probably more than the collective memories of generations of Lawrence business leaders can begin to tally — local businessmen and the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce have lamented the lack of vocational-technical training in the county.
There have been periodic fits and starts to address the situation and some modest successes usually involving Dwayne Peaslee, former leader of the local Kansas Plumbers & Pipefitters Union, who was honored by the chamber in January 2012 with its Citizen of the Years award.
Now, a more serious effort seems to be taking shape, outlined recently by Chamber President Greg Williams. Williams says the chamber is talking with the Lawrence school district, area community colleges and businesses about creating, in 2013, a campus in Lawrence to provide more workforce training in health sciences, machine technology, computer networking and commercial construction. He believes the proposed facility could feature programs taught by three community colleges, in addition to the training already provided by the local school district.
Williams brings to the equation experience and expertise from his economic development leadership in Springfield, Mo., where the Ozarks Technical Community College was created by 14 school districts.
What seems intriguing is that Williams apparently believes no tax increase will be needed to fund the project, because of what “multiple public and private partners” can bring to the table.
Of course, he admittedly is aware that the school district’s planned April bond election contains $5.7 million within the $92.5 million package that could be earmarked for technical education. More details and a lot of specific information need to be provided about the vo-tech campus idea. Realistically, the fact that 6 percent of the proposed bond issue could in some way help with the so-far loosely defined chamber project is not a reason in and of itself for voters to support the larger bond issue.
However, let’s hope that this time there’s substance and reality behind the outline of a way to increase vo-tech offerings in Lawrence, and that the vo-tech campus concept is not dependent upon passage of the school district’s bond issue.