Saving the Skills Center begins tonight, 7 pm @ Skills Center

Tonight the Port Angeles School Board meets at the Skills Center.  They are considering closing this life-line to decent wage jobs.  If you want to save the Skills Center for the current and future generations of kids seeking work training for family wage jobs, please attend the skills center meeting tonight, 7 pm at the Skills center, located at the corner of West 8th and B Streets.

 

What’s the hurry to dissolve the Skills Center?

by Dale Wilson

Never have I seen such haste in gutting an effective, award-winning program and scattering the pieces to the wind. Furniture is stacked in the halls and classrooms are being used to store lumber.  By law, the dissolution of a Skills Center may not commence without permission of the Office of Superintendent Public Instruction at the state level.  According to Rebecca Wallace with OSPI no such permission has been requested nor granted.

When I was a teenager my philosophy was it is easier to get forgiveness than it is to get permission.  This is adolescent thinking and should not carry on into adulthood.  Certainly it is no way to run a school district.

The Port Angeles School District’s board of directors are standing idly by as school district employees take apart our Skills Center, a fully functioning worker training program. There is nothing in sight to replace it. The “cover” story is all the classes will be moved to the high school. If it was this simple the legislature and local business leaders would not have worked so hard to bring a Skills Center to life in Port Angeles—we already had a high school in 2002 when our skills center was born.

Despite pleas from the community, including the business community, port commissioner(s), and the Economic Development Council, parents and students—including former students—despite all these pleas—they persist in taking it down.

Oh, did I mention it is also against the law what they are doing?

The enabling legislation that allows the development of Skills Centers also has a method for dissolution should it become necessary. Much work goes into establishing Skills Center. Only 14 exist in the entire state of Washington. Port Angeles is very fortunate to have one. For that reason the haste in dissolving it makes no sense—on the surface.

Usually it takes a student base of at least 12,000 students to qualify for a Skills Center–under state law. The unique part of the history of our local Skills Center is the melding together of 5 nearby school districts on the peninsula. Even with all 5 schools and the Peninsula College there is still not enough students to meet the required 12,000. The state allowed it to happen anyway because of the great and historic need for job training skills here on the peninsula. That need has not abated but has increased.

The suddenness of the decision and its follow-through is quite breath-taking. Pink Slips go out before most of the community even knows there is a decision to be made. Students looked thunder-struck when they got the news all of a sudden, “your plans for a career have been scuttled, good luck.”

When asked “why?” School Board President, Joshua Jones, MD claimed the local board had not made the decision but the consortium schools making up the Skills Center coalition made the decision by sending letters to the local board saying they would not renew their commitments to provide students and funding to the Skills Center. This is a smoke screen. The consortium schools pulled out their financial input many years ago. They also stopped sending students years ago. The local school district has paid the freight for almost a decade. The consortium schools owe up to $750,000 to the local school district.  Why the haste to close it now?

Last November when the school district asked the community for a $43 million levy they never mentioned plans to destroy the Skills Center. I for one would not have voted for the levy had I known they planned to gut the best worker training facility in the county. They kept it all hidden.

In the levy passed last November is approximately $5million for career training. Instead of any of this going to the Skills Center they now plan to move all the career training back to the high school. If this was a successful plan the legislature would never have worked so hard to develop a Skills Center here.

The schools superintendent, Marc Jackson says there are 50-something career classes now being offered at the high school. These are taught in one hour segments. Looking at the number of instructors for career education divided by the number of classes allegedly offered they are cutting it pretty close. It would appear they are planning on teaching multiple subjects within the same class period. This certainly over-burdens the instructors and short-changes the students if this is the plan.

The beauty of the Skills Center approach is the training is delivered in 3-hour blocks of time. This allows students to hone in on the training without changing classes every 55 minutes.

Oh, there is another element to this story. What they are doing is illegal. According to WAC 392-600-010, the host school district, PASD, must get permission from the Office of Public Instruction before even thinking about dissolution of a Skills Center. It also says they must investigate several alternatives to dissolution before closing the program. One of the alternatives is to partner with another skills center within the state, becoming a satellite site for them. None of this has been done.

Knowing what I know about the many machinations unfolding at the Skills Center including the criminally incompetent Business Incubator Project which unloaded its debt onto the school system when they turned out the lights, one must consider what is the end game for this sudden and ill-advised dissolution of our Skills Center.

Does the college want to take over the building? Does the hospital want to take over the building? Is there some other unknown entity with designs on the building? We don’t know yet. Very little information has been offered to the community since the sudden decision to gut the Skill Center.

One thing school board members need to know—under the enabling legislation that created the Skills Center concept is a codicil which says: “A skill center administrative council…seeking to dissolve the operation of a skill center campus shall request prior approval from the superintendent of public instruction before dissolution…”

It goes on to say any skill center built or remodeled with state money, at dissolution shall go back to the host district and be carried on its books as “instructional space.” Presumably this means the building cannot be sold off or sub-leased for any purpose other than educating the children within that district.

Rumor has it the school district wants to move their central offices to the Skills Center building. Under the aforementioned law this would not be allowed.

Tonight (June 22nd) the school board meets at the Skills Center, corner of 8th and B Streets. Perhaps they will discuss the fate of the Skills Center. If you believe, as many do, the Skills Center is worth saving please attend and use your public comment period to let the school board know how you feel.

Sadly, the school board directors are not being given sufficient information to make this decision. The community must get involved. The future of our children and our community is in the balance.

2 Comments

  1. Richard Wade

    I must commend your excellent job of connecting the dots! This is nothing short of another bureaucratic take over under the auspices of “better to ask for forgiveness than ask permission,” with the usual smoke and mirrors to mislead the public. I hope the public wakes up in time or I’m going to have too research Washington’s laws pertaining to a citizens arrest! This action by the district is clearly illegal!

    Reply
  2. Smells Fishy

    I agree! Your point about the trades classes existing at the high school prior to all the efforts to create the Skills Center is an important one.

    If it was so “efficient” to consolidate all trades and career training at the high school, why did our leadership create and maintain the Skill Center for 15 years?

    Was everybody at the School Board so stupid for the last 15 years, and only got smart a month ago?

    Editor’s Note: Only PASD Director, Cindy Kelly has been on the school board all the 15 years since the opening of the Skills Center.
    This is a good question for her.
    You might also ask her why she never demanded payment of the $750,000 owed to the Skills Center from surrounding school districts…

    Reply

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