Archive for Monday, July 15, 2013

Business leaders developing plans for larger career and technical education center

July 15, 2013


Back in January, the idea that the Lawrence school district had for expanding career and technical education programs was pretty simple: The school district would issue bonds to renovate space in the existing Holcom Center building near 25th and Iowa that already provides some CTE classes.

The district then would partner with a few area community colleges – Johnson County, Neosho County and Kansas City, Kan. - to offer courses there.

That idea was just a $5.7 million part of a larger $92.5 million bond package that the school board was seeking. The overall idea was to renovate aging elementary schools, expand the district's networking technology and position the entire district for the full spectrum of "21st century teaching and learning."

The public approved overwhelmingly, passing the bond issue with 72 percent of the vote in the April 2 election.

But now, area business leaders want to refine and expand on the district's original idea. And they are pushing a larger, more complex plan aimed at serving the needs of students, adults and local employers.

“The thought is to create one large community tech center that partners with the school district,” said Doug Gaumer, president of Intrust Bank in Lawrence and chairman of the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce board of directors.

More comprehensive center needed

He said there clearly is a need for more career and technical education opportunities for high school students. But he said a more comprehensive training center could also benefit adults in the community who want to train for new careers, as well as existing businesses who need workers with very specific skills.

“This would offer benefits to the kiddos in public school and our population as a whole,” Gaumer said this week.

Some details of the proposal were discussed at the Lawrence school board meeting Monday. But Gaumer provided additional detail at a meeting Friday of the Lawrence-Douglas County Joint Economic Development Council, where he stressed that the plan still is in a conceptual stage, and still undergoing revision.

Based on discussions at both of those meetings, as well as interviews with Chamber and school officials, the once-simple plan for expanding school district programs at the Holcom Center now looks like this:

Location: Instead of the Holcom Center, the Chamber plan would place the new technical education center in a more industrial area, at a 20-acre site at 2920 Haskell Ave. currently owned by Hiper Technology Inc.

Ownership: The Economic Development Council of Lawrence and Douglas County would buy that property with low-interest financing from a consortium of local banks, led by Intrust. So far, Gaumer said, six other banks have expressed interest in taking part. The EDC would then lease back to Hiper Technology the roughly 15,000 square feet of space it now occupies, leaving about 50,000 to 60,000 square feet of space available for an adult technical education center.

Part of that space would be used to offer programs through community colleges and technical schools. But a certain amount of “flex space” would be set aside for custom job training to meet the needs of employers in Douglas County.

Gaumer said it's not yet certain whether the EDC would remain the permanent owner of the facility, or if it eventually would shift ownership to a governing board for the new education center.

Governance: Gaumer said there would need to be some kind of governing structure for the adult portion of the new tech center, but those details haven't been worked out. The governing structure, however, is likely to include representatives from all of the institutions offering programs at the center.

School district facility: The EDC would donate part of the 20-acre tract to the school district to be used as the site of its own facility. The bonds that voters approved in April would be used to construct that new building. That's intended to allay concerns by school board members about spending public bond proceeds to renovate and improve a facility that the school district wouldn't own.

Federal grant funding: Gaumer said Neosho County Community College filed an application July 3 for a Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training grant from the U.S. Department of Labor. That application reportedly was made on behalf of the school district and the three community colleges, as well as Washburn Institute of Technology in Topeka and the Flint Hills Technical Institute in Emporia.

Gaumer said he did not know how large a grant the group was seeking, and Neosho County college officials were not available Friday to answer questions. But Gaumer said the grant would fund equipping both facilities for courses in machine technology, networking, health sciences and all the other programs they plan to offer.

No commitment yet

School board members so far have made no commitment to sign on with the Chamber's plan. But neither have they dismissed it.

Instead, they are looking at the two plans simultaneously, moving ahead with the job of preparing cost estimates and design schemes for their original plan, while waiting to see a final proposal from the Chamber and other entities interested in a different kind of project.

“We are simply gathering information at this point,” school board president Rick Ingram said. “We want to make a decision when we have all the information.”

Ingram said the board plans to hold public hearings on the proposal before it makes any decision. He said those would probably be scheduled in late August or early September, after families return from summer vacations.

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Richard Heckler 4 years, 8 months ago

People can learn to build houses on the interns.

I can not appreciate that the Chamber decides it wants to alter the plans set forth by our USD 497 BOE and the taxpayers.

I have confidence in this USD 497 BOE and do appreciate their leadership capabilities. Not only that they no doubt devoted countless hours constructing a plan for this Vo-Tech facility.

USD 497 does not need to take on more real-estate donated or not. WE taxpayers own 75 acres in SE Lawrence and the Holcomb property. Let's put it to work. USD 497 BOE owns this 75 acres with plenty of space to expand for the future.

USD 497 needs to stick with the plans it offered to USD 497 taxpayers. Or if the plan is altered it should be accomplished on USD 497 property that the taxpayers own possibly with USD 497 taxpayer approval.

I want a Vo-Tech campus that also houses some academic space that accommodates any Vo Tech student who want to graduate high school. This facility should be open to anyone else which would help pay for the Vo-Tech campus/program by way of tuitions and fees.

We want to promote small business entrepreneurs and/or highly skilled technicians that will move forward and make some money.

Subjects such as Website management and design, Graphic design, Cuiinary, alternative energy training, horticultural technology, auto technicians...... etc etc etc

4 year degrees do not have jobs waiting like in the good ole days. Politicians and big bankers have destroyed a system that paid back many many times over.

Robert Rauktis 4 years, 8 months ago

Swami says, "By the headline, sounds like another large taxpayer expenditure is in the future. Maybe even a bond issue."

William Weissbeck 4 years, 8 months ago

I understand the tax payer skepticism. In this environment, it seems that whenever private industry proposes a partnership, it means they get a tax break, get to unload some unwanted property/land and the tax payer foots the bill. Too often the concept of "long term benefit" to private business is lost on them when they are focused only on next quarter's profits. But I have a different concern. We need to get away from the concept of have "technical" education separate from "traditional" education. In a age when most kids don't obtain a college degree or even attend college, we need to stop in high school sending these kids to other facilities. They are just as much a part of the "traditional" school as those tracked to be college bound. If schools clamor to have expanded music and art facilities, because they are enriching. We need to expand on site the technical teaching areas, because they are necessary. We fell into the auto shop rut long ago and have never really changed.

usesomesense 4 years, 8 months ago

I completely agree that convenience and availability is key for kids in high school. The more practical electives they can take on the campus they're already attending the better. I do strongly believe that our community would gain from a technical school - but that falls out of USD 497's jurisdiction. I don't think we're going to get enough high school kids to attend more high school at another location to justify the cost. Additionally the money set aside in the bond isn't anywhere near enough. We'd likely be better off improving and augmenting the existing high schools with additional class options and the technologies and curriculum materials needed. I'm not so sure any bond money goes toward instructors - which is a 'hidden' expense we'll likely be asked to pay AFTER a facility (which requires a LOT more additional staff than just adding/sharing classroom spaces (ie:wood shop workbenches could also be the electrician's training classroom - I know, I know - argue about how inefficient blah blah blah - having an classroom that's empty and unused half the time is WAY more inefficient) The whole Hiper thing is a big red flag on this deal. Conflict of interests. I don't want space to be vacant, but taxpayers shouldn't pay the bill - and especially when it means picking up the property for a price nobody else wants it for. Now if Hiper wanted to donate the building in exchange for a $1 annual lease locked in for 15 years for the proposed space Hiper needs I'd say - heck yes! That ain't happening. The chamber shouldn't be a real estate agent.

Ladybug2 4 years, 8 months ago

I would love to see a facility that adults as well as high school students could get technical training. I believe Lawrence has long needed a place for this type of training. This might even convince more industrial-type businesses to come to Lawrence if we have properly trained people to work there.

usesomesense 4 years, 8 months ago

Absolutely - but it would also retain tax dollars even if it doesn't ultimately mean more jobs. KU Students that can't make it at KU would have the option to stay in Lawrence and develop a trade instead, and High School grads that choose to follow the technical path could stay in Lawrence instead of their parents $ going out of town - both in tuition and living expenses.

LogicMan 4 years, 8 months ago

Flexibility is key for this Vo-Tech school. It needs to accomodate both high school and post-graduation students. Both part and full time educational experiences are needed. Skill training for higher paying local jobs must be the goal of the Vo-Tech school; leave normal education to the K-12 schools.

General and specialty construction/maintenance, welding, automotive, printing, laboratory, and what else are needed badly in Douglas County? In the old days we could just look at the classified ads in the paper, but no more.

William Weissbeck 4 years, 8 months ago

But what is and should be "normal" education. When most students don't attend or get college degrees, what should be the primary purpose of K-12 education? Why should we segregate one group from the other?

usesomesense 4 years, 8 months ago

Agreed - and this bond didn't have anywhere near enough money to accommodate a full-fledged technical school of any kind - unless we're just saying "Well, technically speaking it is a school - it just doesn't have any hands on labs"

Carol Bowen 4 years, 8 months ago

Everyone is worried about the real estate and not the program. VoTech training for what? I hope we don't build a program and the facility with the idea that if we build, they will come. There's too much of that in Lawrence already.

I have no problem with business partnering with USD 497, but I want to know more about what type of skills we need. And, like WWWW, I think that VoTech should not be separate from college prep. Although, That might be difficult logistically. Equipment is expensive. What internships could the private sector offer? The business community needs to kick in. Tax payers already made a commitment.

Carol Bowen 4 years, 8 months ago

I did not promote college prep. The programs have some common ground - the ability to read and write, calculate, and other classroom activities. Not every VoTech course would be in a lab setting. Having the programs together would allow students to cross over or sample other programs. VoTech should not be considered a remedial program.

Richard Heckler 4 years, 8 months ago

We don't want private money interfering with what should be taught or how. I want this to be strictly USD 497 through and through for my tax dollar investment.

Carol Bowen 4 years, 8 months ago

Nice sentiment, but how would educators know what VoTech skills are needed? And, who would pay for equipment and upgrades. Auto mechanics need computer skills, machine shop tools change with the times, ... schools do not change and do not adapt easily.

kuguardgrl13 4 years, 8 months ago

It sounds like USD 497 wishes Lawrence had a technical college they could partner with. I.e. students wanting vo-tech careers can get a jump start on training while in high school. KCKCC has such a program for high school students: Even some of the other schools like Perry-Lecompton offer welding and other electives of that sort. Not sure if they count toward any degree or certification though.

This plan from the chamber of commerce seems way too complicated. Why can't we get the city and/or county to support a technical college that would offer programs for adults as well as high school students? These exist all over the country. KU shouldn't get their panties in a twist if it is a strictly vo-tech school (no gen eds or anything that could transfer to a 4 yr degree). We already have PCI and some of the other "chain" tech institutes.

I'm from Minnesota where we have what's called the Post-Secondary Enrollment Option (PSEO) for high school juniors and seniors (and sophomores for one vo-tech class). Students can take PSEO for everything including vo-tech and college credit. Most if not all of the public colleges are involved in the program. If Kansas had such a program, high school students could take classes for credit at Washburn tech, JCCC, or KU. Students of course have to meet certain admissions standards for the program. Programs like this are great oppportunities for students interested in vo-tech or college to get ahead on classes. In Minnesota a lot of gifted students take advantage of PSEO if AP and honors classes aren't enough for them.

So yes, I would support a technical college for both high school students and adults, but it doesn't have to be this complicated partnership across several county lines. We have the resources in Douglas County to do this ourselves.

usesomesense 4 years, 8 months ago

I think the Chamber should get an adult technical school to open a branch here. If they can get them to buy Hiper to do it so be it. I'd be happy to support tax breaks for an educational institution - as long as that's what it really is anyway. Such an institution I'm sure would be happy to partner with the school district on some things. I'd propose sharing instructors between facilities - making startup costs lower for the vo-tech school and improving the programs in the USD497 facilities. For example - the Auto Shop teacher would be someone that only teaches auto shop full time everyday instead of also teaching wood shop or whatever. They wouldn't need to be a jack of many trades in order to be a full time teacher. Auto Shop at 8:00AM at Free State, 10:00 AM at Lawrence High then off to the vo-tech school for the rest of the day. Seniors that have decided they want to go down that path could get in a full semester toward certification with a full afternoon class at the vo-tech school. How many of us have bought a cookie because the free sample was delicious? It's marketing - steer the high school kids toward a technical career and they're yours after they graduate - some before. We need something like this here - this proposal just isn't it.

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