News

Schools spare most vocational classes

by MICHAEL DASHIELL
Sequim Gazette

Supporters of vocational programs say the classes not only meet the needs of students who aren’t necessarily on a college track, but also provide good paychecks not long after graduation.

 

A concerned crowd Monday night saw most of Sequim High School’s vocational offerings spared after Sequim School District’s board of directors voted to retain all but one section of vocational programs the high school offers now.

 

In a 3-2 vote, the board voted to cut two-tenths of one full vocational staffer, likely reducing SHS’s three sections of agriculture science to two.

 

The move spared Engineering Science I and II classes and one section of Introductory Auto Mechanics.

 

The move also will cost the school district about $45,000 that will come from the general fund.

 

John Bridge, Bev Horan and Walter Johnson voted for the motion; board president Sarah Bedinger and Virginia O’Neil voted against it.

 

Bedinger said she wanted to see the board not make any cuts at all.

 

“I believe the local school board is the last line for kids,” she said. “The state imposes a lot on school districts (and) put us in a situation with very limited choices. When I have an opportunity for kids, I fight for it.”

 

O’Neil said she was uncomfortable making such a decision with limited time.

 

“I felt like (the recommended cuts) came to us quickly,” she said. “We should figure out a way to let Shawn (Langston, SHS principal) run the program he’s got.”

 

A week ago, superintendent Bill Bentley brought a proposal to the board that would have cut eight-tenths of a full staff member from the vocational department because of declining interest in the programs. But board members declined to approve the cuts, instead setting up a special meeting to deliberate the issue and open the topic for public discussion.

 

More than three dozen community members attended Monday night’s meeting, most of them vocal in their support of Sequim High’s vocational program offerings.

 

Bruce Lindquist, a retired commercial carpenter, said vocational skills lead to jobs that can pay journeymen $75,000 per year and welders $100,000 or more annually.

 

“We need skilled vocational people,” he said. “They need to start here.”

Crunching numbers

School district officials budgeted for 194 students in vocational classes for the 2011-2012 academic year, but saw just 181 in the classrooms.

 

“It appeared to us numbers in the vocational programs have declined,” Bentley said.

 

Brian Lewis, school district business manager, detailed a drop in vocational enrollment, a 30-student drop — from about 210 students to 180 — since the 2007-2008 school year.

 

Langston said there might be a number of reasons for the drop, most notably an increase in mathematics classes required for graduation. Traditionally, he said, Sequim High has three or four sections of Algebra II, but after the state mandated a third year of math that number jumped to seven classes.

 

That led to the development of several alternatives for that third year of math, including some crossover classes in the Career and Tech Education (CTE) field, such as personal finance/business math, advanced CAD, computer programming and robotics.

 

“We’re trying to build personal finance/business math for those kids who don’t want to take Algebra II,” Langston said.

 

Since Langston took over as SHS principal in 2001, Sequim High has seen a jump from 23 sections of mathematics to 32. Langston said this is the first year he’s seen a decrease in vocational student enrollment since he came to the district.

 

Lewis said the district has budgeted for 183 vocational students next fall. Still, he said, trying to replicate the same vocational program from this year to the next would cost about $70,000 more than what the district has budgeted.

 

Bentley said the district could be facing a similar shortfall in vocational students and state funding next year.

 

“We all agree in the importance of these vocational programs,” he said. “If the trend continues, we could be fiscally under water.”

Personal pleas

Several students, many of whom are enrolled in Engineering Tech classes, asked the board to consider rejecting the proposed cuts.

 

Skyler Lewis, an SHS senior, said he’s now certified in CPR and First Aid thanks to SHS’s vocational program.

 

“Vocational classes are the backbone of America,” he said. “It’s a shame that we’d be losing engineering technology.”

 

Amanda Larson, a Sequim High sophomore, added, “Vocational (classes) help students figure out what they want to do.”

 

Randy Hogoboom said taking Engineering Technology classes helped him figure out his career goal of being an electrician.

 

Parents also urged the board to retain vocational offerings. Dave Halverson, a parent of four in Sequim schools, said the board should protect vocational classes.

 

“This is not something that any school district should cut,” he said. “Schools that don’t save the programs, they (the programs) don’t come back.”

 

Dave Bekkevar, a parent of three boys who took vocational classes while attending Sequim schools, urged board members to get state timber revenues coming back to the schools.

 

“I’m behind vocational programs all the way,” he said.

 

Reach Michael Dashiell at miked@sequimgazette.com.

 

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