School superintendents raise concerns over CTE location changes.

March 10, 2016

 By Rob Alway, Editor-in-Chief.

AMBER TOWNSHIP (Mason County) — A recent proposal by the West Shore Educational Service District (WSESD) board of education to consolidate Career Technical Education (CTE) classes to West Shore Community College’s (WSCC) campus in Mason County has caused some Oceana County superintendents questioning the changes.

The two programs that are expected to be moved next fall will be the allied health and agriscience classes held at Hart High School. Both classes are also offered at WSCC. In addition, the WSESD will no longer pay tuition for students to attend classes outside of the district, if those same classes are being offered by the West Shore ESD.

There are currently 529 students enrolled in the WSESD CTE program. The students come from schools located within the WSESD: Baldwin, Hart, Ludington, Mason County Eastern, Mason County Central, Pentwater, Shelby and Walkerville. In addition, out-of-district students come from Manistee, Onekama, Manistee Catholic Central and ASM Tech in Manistee County.

The decision to move the programs was based not only on improving quality of learning and being more fiscally responsible but also because Hart High School is going to be under renovations, which means there is no longer room for the programs, WSESD Superintendent Randy Howes said.

“By centralizing these services, we are offering higher quality education for our students with more efficiency,” Howe said. “You have to move forward and do what’s best for kids. We have to move forward and redevelop these programs. We are investing huge amounts of dollars and holding the same programs in different locations is not a responsible use of taxpayer dollars.”

Howes said with the expected creation of a partnership between WSCC and Michigan State University to bring an agriculture certification program to WSCC’s campus, the WSESD’s agriscience class will become a feeder program. “Both the college and the WSESD have plans to invest a lot of money into infrastructure to help grow these programs,” Howes said. “Having the program on two different campuses just isn’t feasible.”

Currently there are 37 students attending the programs in Hart, including 22 students in allied health and 15 in agriscience. Of those 15, 12 are Hart students and three are Shelby students. There are 22 students from Manistee and Mason counties who attend the agriscience program on the WSCC campus.

The move will only impact students from Hart and Shelby high schools. Currently, all Walkerville and Pentwater students in the CTE program are bussed to WSCC (Walkerville has 16 students in the CTE while Pentwater has nine).

 Walkerville Public Schools Superintendent Michael Sweet said while there isn’t an impact on his students, as an Oceana County school superintendent, he is disappointed with the WSESD’s decision.

“The withdrawal of programs from Oceana County so soon after they were begun is disconcerting,” Sweet said. “Public perception of WSESD’s commitment to Oceana County becomes circumspect when the organization installs and then abandons programming so quickly.”

In July 2012, the Oceana Intermediate School District and the Mason-Lake Intermediate School District merged to form the West Shore Educational Service District.

Hart Public Schools Superintendent Mark Platt said he understands the move. He said he and the Hart Board of Education have come to terms with it but agrees with Sweet that there is a perception issue.

“The ESD is going to have to deal with the perception of the move so quickly after the merger,” Platt said.

Shelby Public Schools Superintendent Dan Bauer is a little less forgiving.

“Completely pulling the allied health and agriscience programs out of Oceana County is bad for Shelby and other Oceana County students,” Bauer recently wrote in a letter to the editor, posted on OceanaCountyPress.com.  “Mr. Howes’ decision has left us baffled. Some of our students that fall behind with the Michigan Merit Curriculum credit requirements cannot attend CTE at a tech cCenter located a great distance away.  They must use every class period to complete credits.  They cannot afford to sit on a bus and waste an hour and a half of instructional time every day.  Many of these students are not college bound and need CTE opportunities the most.  These local programs were promised in the merger.”

Shelby has 58 students enrolled in CTE. Of those, 26 attend WSESD programs and 32 attend programs at the Newaygo County Career Technical Center in Fremont. 

According to Google Maps, the drive from Shelby Public Schools to the Newaygo County Career Technical Center in Fremont is a 40 minute drive while the drive to West Shore Community College is a 34 minute drive. However, the Shelby students are dropped off at Hart High School and then transported to WSCC via a Hart bus.

Bauer also stated in his letter that the WSESD is not going to reimburse Shelby for sending students to the Newaygo County center anymore. Howes said that isn’t exactly true.

Howes said the WSESD will continue to cover tuition for Shelby students who attend classes in Fremont as long as they are classes that the WSESD does not offer.

The Newaygo County Career Technical Center charges $1,200 per student for out-of-district tuition, which is $38,400 a year that WSESD pays, plus $25,000 for transportation, Howes said.

Bauer said promises were made before the merger that the WSESD is not honoring.

“The Shelby Board of Education supported the merger that occurred in 2012 between Oceana ISD and Mason Lake ISD because it was promised to be good for our students,” Bauer said. “The ISDs promised more support for special education services and more CTE opportunities for students.  The merger was supposed to allow financially strapped districts in Oceana County to be able to offer more student programming. Existing Mason and Lake county ISD taxes for these programs were imposed on Oceana property owners with the merger.  The Shelby board believed that the newly formed WSESD would follow through on the documented promises made in the merger and that it was a way to solve a number of financial challenges the district faced while providing more special education services and CTE programming.”

Howes said “documented promises” do not exist and that the merger took place before he and Bauer worked for their respected school districts. Howes added that the taxpayers within the former Mason-Lake ISD, along with the tax payers in the WSCC district spent millions of dollars on building the CTE programs, including infrastructure, prior to the merger, a benefit that Oceana County taxpayers (with the exception of those in the far northern part of the county, which is part of the WSCC district) did not contribute to. Therefore, the Oceana County taxpayers may have seen higher property taxes after the merger, they certainly are reaping the benefit of the initial investment, Howes said. Also, prior to the merger, Oceana County schools paid $2,000 per student to attend the CTE program. In 2011, a year before the merger, Hart, Shelby and Walkerville schools sent 65 students to CTE programs, for a cost of about $130,000.  This year, there are 91 students from those three schools attending the program.

The WSESD is funded by a levy of 1 mill, which is rolled back to about .9 mill.

Prior to the merger, Oceana County students attended the Mason-Lake CTE programs and were charged tuition.

“We were sending kids up to West Shore even before the merger, it’s the closest program for us,” Platt said. “Newaygo is just too far. Our school is located within a short distance from U.S. 31 and transporting students up to West Shore makes sense.”

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