PORT ANGELES — This is likely to be the North Olympic Peninsula Skills Center’s last year, leaving staff and students distraught and not knowing what they will be doing next, officials said this week.
“There are several who are still crying, several who don’t know what their next step is,” said Jody Potter, director of the skills center, which provides career and technical education classes.
While nothing is final yet, Port Angeles School District Superintendent Marc Jackson said there’s a “strong possibility” the skills center will dissolve following this school year.
The final decision will come from the state Board of Education and the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.
The skills center provides classes teaching students work skills in a number of disciplines, including automotive technology, cinema and TV production, culinary arts, cosmetology and medical careers.
The skills center has been possible because of an inter-district administrative council made up of the Port Angeles, Sequim, Cape Flattery, Crescent and Quillayute school districts and Peninsula College.
The other school districts have told the Port Angeles School District that they want out of the agreement, and under state law, a school district must have at least 12,000 students to have a skills center, Jackson said. The district has less than 4,000 students.
Among the reasons for Cape Flattery and Quillayute school districts is that it’s just too far a drive for their students.
Jackson said the decision comes down to funding, enrollment and the state increasing the graduation requirement of 22.5 academic credits to 24 for the class of 2021.
The skills center has operated on a deficit for the past several years, a bill that’s historically been picked up by the Port Angeles School District, Jackson said.
The deficit for the 2013-14 school year was $452,561, and the deficit for the current school year is expected to near $390,000, he said.
The 2011-12 school year showed an income of $56,162.
“There really hasn’t been a practice of other school districts getting billed,” Jackson said.
With the increase in academic credits, he said, students don’t have time for the three-hour classes offered at the skills center if they want to graduate on time.
“One of the first goals is to get the diploma,” he said. “It’s made it difficult to go into these programs that are three straight hours.”
Many of the students at the skills center tend to struggle with a traditional high school, Potter said, adding that they thrive once they are learning work-related skills.
They are typically students who join the workforce directly out of high school, she said.
“Some of them are pretty emotional because they’ve come to rely on the skills center,” she said. “We have kids that when we told them the news just burst out crying.”
Potter said many employers in the area turn to the skills center to find qualified employees who won’t require training.
She said there are also a number of business owners in the Port Angeles area who first learned the skills they needed at the skills center.
Programs such as the culinary arts program are heavily involved in the community, she said, often providing catering for events.
Jackson said district officials are considering redesigning the classes and moving them into the high school.
Exactly how that would work — what classes would stay and what classes would go — is still up in the air, he said.
“It’s clear to me that career and technical education classes are here to stay,” he said. “These are exciting classes.”
Jackson said districts are increasingly encouraged to provide career training, but at the same time, students are being required to take more academic classes.
“There’s a mismatch between policy,” he said. “This hurts enrollment across the [North Olympic] Peninsula.”
Potter said she doesn’t know which classes will survive and which will be dropped.
She fears that if the skills center closes, some students won’t graduate from high school.
Potter, who started at the skills center last year, said she is proud of the work the center has done throughout the past year.
Media students have been nominated for a Student Emmy Award through the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences for their broadcast of the Port Angeles High School 2016 homecoming football game.
This year, Potter worked to ensure students receive free college credit for their classes. She said in the first semester of this year, students earned more than 50 college credits through skills center classes.
The skills center building is owned by PASD and Peninsula College, Jackson said.
While the skills center is likely going away, he said, the district will continue to use the building.
“We’re still going to house a lot of programs in the skills center building,” he said.
Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected].