The Howard County School of Technology's newly reinstated plumbing program, which drew fewer than half the expected number of students, may be canceled for the coming school year unless enrollment rises.

The school system probably cannot retain the plumbing program next fall for only the three students who started this spring, said James R. McGowan, associate superintendent for administration and instruction.

"When I was approached on (reinstating plumbing) in late September or October, I was told there would be five to seven students," McGowan said.

He has not set a target enrollment for keeping the program, although he said 10 to 15 students would be "in the ballpark."

However, he will know later this spring, when he begins staffing assignments, whether that number of prospective students will be enough to ensure the restored program's survival.

The cost of restarting the plumbing program was about $20,000, which included approximately $18,000 in salary and benefits for the part-time instructor and about$2,000 for supplies. Most plumbing supplies were given to other programs at the school when the program closed in June 1989 after enrollment had dropped to two students.

The cost is a drop in the bucket of Superintendent Michael E. Hickey's $200.8 million operating budgetrequest for 1991-1992.

However, the county's grim financial prospects already have forced Hickey to cut $10.5 million from his request. He told PTA council representatives Feb. 4 that courses drawing fewstudents are likely targets for the budget ax.

School of Technology Principal Mary J. Day said school officials were counting on the five or six students who indicated on vocational interest cards that they would like to learn plumbing.

The students who had signed plumbing interest cards were placed in air conditioning classes last fall, the principal said. She and vocational education supervisor John A.Myers then asked McGowan to restore the plumbing program.

The associate superintendent said last week that he knew enrollment would bebelow the 15-student minimum, "but it seemed to be enough for us to go ahead, and there was interest in the community." He referred to efforts last year by local plumbers to have the program restored.

The school last fall hired Gary P. McNamara, owner of Northwest Plumbing in Hampstead, to teach plumbing classes starting Jan. 28.

But only one student chose to switch from air conditioning into plumbing. One transferred from electricity, and the third plumbing student is a ninth-grader who recently moved to Howard County from Florida, where he had spent the fall in a plumbing training program. None of the three is a senior, so these students would be eligible to continue in plumbing next year if the program is offered.

Day said she didn't know whether any school counselors had checked with the students duringthe fall to see if they were still interested in plumbing.

When the plumbing program opened, "we didn't want to put any pressure on the kids to transfer," Day said. "(Myers and McGowan) were told we didn't have sufficient enrollment. But we were granted a half-time instructor because we felt we might be able to build the program. Then we had to look for an instructor, and that took a while. By that time, the students were well into the (air conditioning) program."

To fillMcNamara's schedule, Day decided to rotate the approximately 40 students in other construction trades -- carpentry, electricity, welding and air-conditioning -- through plumbing classes to "see plumbing as it relates to their particular program areas," the principal said.

She ruled out a reciprocal rotation for plumbing students to visit other construction trades classes. "We're not going to rotate plumbingstudents this year," she said. "Because plumbing doesn't have a fullgroup of kids, we're going to schedule it (the rotation) this way."

Day said she has no plans for rotating plumbing students through other construction trades classes if the program is continued in the next school year.

She said construction trades teachers have workedtogether informally in the past. For example, carpentry students might build a panel that electrical students would wire, but the rotation through plumbing will be the first formally required rotation.

Both Day and McGowan declined to comment on reports circulating among teachers that the School of Technology could lose six teaching positions next year.

The school's enrollment has dwindled from a high of1,149 in 1981 to 692 in the current school year.

Day said recruitment will continue this school year for the School of Technology's 23programs.

Copyright © 2020, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad