Carroll County's Career and Technology Center provides a number of classes such as video production; textile and fashion; heating, ventilation, and air conditioning; biomedical science and more.
But with limited space, about 300 or more students are being denied an opportunity to take classes at the Tech Center each year.
Carroll County Public Schools' proposed FY 2018-2022 Capital Improvement Plan calls for a new building that is expected to cost more than $97 million in state and county funding to construct.
In April 2015, the Carroll County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved approximately $30 million to build a new Career and Tech Center, which was expected at the time to cost about $60 million. The other $30 million was expected to come from the state. Construction of the school was tentatively set to begin in 2020. In August 2015, school system staff said sharp increases in construction costs was the reason for the new $97 million price tag, which included the county allocating $57.2 million over three years.
The school system and county have been working for months to address the Carroll schools' funding issue.
Last December, the Carroll Board of Education voted 4-1 to approve Superintendent Stephen Guthrie's recommendation to close North Carroll High, New Windsor Middle and Charles Carroll Elementary schools at the end of the 2015-2016 school year. Carroll school officials have said the decision was the result of declining enrollment systemwide that lead to underutlization of building, and that the closures would save more than $5 million per year.
Since June, a combined committee of school education members, commissioners and community members that have spent four months trying to tackle the funding gap in future years.
Four candidates are running for two seats on the nonpartisan Carroll County Board of Education. They are retired Carroll County schools teacher Marsha Herbert, of Westminster; Howard County teacher Julie Kingsley, of Mount Airy; former Carroll County schools instructional assistant Mary Kowalski, of Westminster; and actuary Donna Sivigny, of Finksburg.
The Times reached out to all four candidates to ask how they would address the aging Tech Center and the number of students being turned away from classes. This is the second question in a five-day series leading up to the start of early voting, which runs Oct. 27 to Nov. 3. Election day is Nov. 8. The candidates were asked to respond in 150 words or less.
As of September 2016, there were 389 students on hold for the Career and Tech Center (CTC). The five previous years, 1,060 were turned away from the CTC. We are not meeting the needs of our students to be either college or career ready, and I will make that a priority when I serve on the BOE. The BOE knew in early spring the number of students that wanted to enter the CTC. We need creative solutions that do not involve construction of a new facility that is projected to be $30 million over budget, with the county portion costing $57.2 million over three years, while we look at closing additional schools. For example, Westminster High School is not at capacity, and its empty classrooms could be used for many CTC programs. CTC programs could be spread out geographically by adding academies to various underused high schools.
The programs offered at the Career and Tech Center (CTC) are phenomenal. Students who complete them have a significant advantage over their peers after graduation. Many obtain industry recognized certifications and immediately launch meaningful careers. Others are better positioned for admittance into colleges of their choice. With adequate investment, the CTC could be a major driver of our local economy.
There are two main problems. They are: an out-of-date facility long overdue for modernization and insufficient capacity. In addition to those turned away, others are deterred from even applying. I am open to all options that solve both issues. Although a new building meets those needs, there may be lower-cost alternatives. Because many of the specialized programs cannot be replicated and should remain centralized, renovating the current facility should occur. Moving some programs into high schools might be feasible — improving student access and utilization of existing space.
To address the need for additional space, I would halt the closure of any additional schools in Carroll County. The Board of Education began a process of downsizing our school system facilities in 2015 and the result is that we are losing valuable space.
Our surplus space could be used to house Career and Tech programs which cannot fit in the current Career and Tech Center. There are numerous programs which could be easily adapted to the available space in our schools.
In addition, rather than voting to close three schools in December 2015, I believe that our Board of Education would have been much better served had they begun the process at that time of adapting surplus space to house Career and Tech programs. If that had been done, we may not now have 300 or more students being denied the opportunity to take Career and Tech classes.
The most efficient way to increase C&T capacity involves using the available classroom space around the county at the high school level. Many of the wait-list programs offered at the C&T Center utilize typical classroom space, such as Engineering and Homeland Security. Northern and southern branches could be set up in the available high school classroom space for these programs. This would free up space within the existing Center in Westminster to expand capacity for the skilled trade programs without having to re-build these expensive spaces.
There is also an opportunity to set up a co-op arrangement with Carroll Community College, as they are combatting the same issues as CCPS with student enrollment. This could clearly be more cost-effective than building new C&T space.