PORT ANGELES — The vote was unanimous, and the tone somber.
As they considered a reasons to close the North Olympic Peninsula Skills Center (NOPSC) at a meeting Thursday, the Port Angeles School Board echoed vice president Sarah Methner’s sentiment: “It’s a sad day.”
The board approved a letter to the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction requesting to dissolve the skills center.
During the public comment period, no one among the approximately 30 community members at the meeting argued against closure — a rarity contrasted by the passionate comments that have characterized public debate.
If OSPI authorizes dissolution as expected, the skills center at 905 W. Ninth St. will be the first among 18 centers in the state to close.
“There is little question that there is sufficient cause to authorize dissolution of the NOPSC,” says the school board’s letter to OSPI.
The reasons cited in the letter include student enrollment that fell more than 50 percent below OSPI’s policy level and four of five school districts withdrawing from the consortium.
That left the Port Angeles School District (PASD), the host district of the skills center, the only district remaining to operate the program.
A single district can operate a program on its own if it has a student population of 12,000, according to the Washington Administrative Code. PASD falls far below with a 2016 full-time-equivalent (FTE) enrollment of 3,798.59.
For those reasons, the district cannot afford or legally continue to operate the skills center, the letter says.
“I think this was years in the making,” board member Joshua Jones said. “This should have happened years ago by law and OSPI policy.”
‘Can’t afford it’
Board member Sandy Long addressed the center’s fiscal health.
“All I want to say is we can’t afford it,” she said. “And we [the board] are fiscally responsible for the school district.”
As the host district, PASD takes responsibility for the planning, construction, administration, operation and fiscal services of the skills center, according to the letter.
Despite some community members volunteering to fundraise, Jones said, sufficient funding still could not revive the low enrollment that legally fated closure. At minimum, a skills center must serve 150 FTE students, and no more than 70 percent may be resident students of the host district, according to the Washington Administrative Code.
NOPSC’s FTE numbers have been closer to 70 in recent years, partially due to a waning “number of students who are willing to make the long trek to NOPSC,” according to the letter.
“Even if there was the ability to capitalize on the outpouring of support to raise funding, we would have no legal ability to operate,” Jones said.
Long motioned to approve the letter, and Methner seconded. The board members were unanimous.
“I do not with any joy in my heart take this vote,” Methner said.
Two cinema and TV production students, instructor Pactric McInnis and NOPSC director Jody Potter — all individuals directly affected by the skills center’s closure — took the podium toward the beginning of the meeting.
The students presented McInnis with a plaque honoring his contribution to their cinema and TV production class, and read a quote from William Arthur Ward: “The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.”
Then, they motioned for Potter to stand.
“Jody, please remember us as we remember you. Thank you for making a difference in us.”
Cinema and TV production will be one of three career and technical education (CTE) classes moving from the skills center to Port Angeles High School if OSPI authorizes dissolution. Medical careers and auto collision repair will also move.
The skills center’s closure would expand the number of CTE classes at Port Angeles High School from 54 to 57.
Methner said though some classes will not move onto the high school (cosmetology and culinary arts), she felt encouraged by OSPI’s assessment of the high school’s CTE program during a July 10 meeting in Olympia.
“It’s unfortunate, but Port Angeles will continue an above-average CTE program,” Methner said.
“What struck me about that meeting was that we will lose some things, but they were impressed with the CTE programs we’ve maintained.”
Across Washington state, students in CTE classes graduate at a rate of 91.4 percent, compared to the state graduation rate of 77.2 percent, according to data from the 2013-14 academic year.
“Students that engage in career and technical education (CTE) programs, both at their home high schools and at the skills center are more likely to graduate high school,” the Washington Skills Centers website states.
Board members anticipate dissolution.
In a July 18 meeting, Superintendent Marc Jackson said: “If this board was to honor the decision of superintendents [at Sequim, Cape Flattery, Crescent and Quillayute Valley] and dissolve the center, OSPI [Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction] would not stand in our way,” Jackson said.
As he did in the last school board meeting, Jones emphasized dissolution applies only to the program, not the Lincoln Center, the building itself. The Port Angeles School District owns 83 percent of the building, and Peninsula College owns 17 percent.
What will happen to the Lincoln Center?
“That will be our next task,” Jones said.
Jones said the board hopes to utilize the building to support CTE programs in some way.
Other board members agreed.
“This isn’t binding, but I see enthusiastic nods around the room,” Jones said.
Reporter Sarah Sharp can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56650, or at [email protected].