By Sue Moore
County voters Nov. 5 will be asked to approve a 1-mill tax hike to consolidate technical and career training at a single site.
The tax, $1 per $1,000 taxable valuation, would raise approximately $8.3 million annually for 20 years for the Kalamazoo Regional Educational Service Agency (KRESA) to fund construction of a new tech center or retrofitting an existing building, plus providing additional funds for instruction, transportation, equipment, career counselors and other staff.
The county’s students in grades 9-12 now travel by bus, sometimes more than one, to get to courses located in schools and community-based organizations.
The ballot proposal was the recommendation of a KRESA study committee created in January, 2018.
KRESA Superintendent Dave Campbell described the need to Vicksburg Lions at a recent meeting. “Jobs are really different today. “We are in a gig economy, in a demographic shift with boomers retiring. The skills that are needed in the workplace today are different,” Campbell pointed out. “Are we truly prepping kids for the skills they need today which are really different than they were in 1960?”
The pendulum has swung, he said, from assuming that high school graduates needed a bachelor’s degree to prepare them for higher earning jobs. He said that 7 out of 10 good-paying jobs require one or two more years of advanced training to earn a skills certificate or associate’s degree.
The study committee found that it is just as important to develop career awareness, exploration and readiness which needs to be intertwined from kindergarten to twelfth grade for students.
A centrally located career center with satellite campuses, such as the Air Zoo and KVCC, is what is needed, Campbell emphasized. Career and technical classes are offered at various high schools and other locations in the county. Students who sign up for these either drive their own cars to attend or take a bus from their high school. Buses go to Loy Norrix, which is a central hub.
There the students take another bus to get to the school offering their desired course. Campbell noted that riding the buses for hours is not attractive to today’s students as it is so time consuming. And kids today aren’t as fixated on getting their driver’s license the day they turn 16; their only option if they want to take a CTE course is the long bus ride, which feedback from students shows is a barrier.
“Good jobs that pay well are going unfilled. We want to double the participation in career and technical training. Employers are desperate,” Campbell said. “Our recommended model of a career center with satellites will offer specific skill training for high school students in high-demand areas based upon state and local market analysis and input.”
To learn more, you can go to kresacte.org.