PORT ANGELES — Students at the North Olympic Peninsula Skills Center now have more certainty about what programs will stay and which ones will go after its likely closure following this school year.
Superintendent Marc Jackson told those at the Port Angeles Business Association meeting Tuesday that medical careers, welding and Emmy-nominated cinema and TV production classes all will move to Port Angeles High School next year.
“We have so many wonderful programs going on at the Skills Center,” Jackson said. “What’s not to like? They are great classes and they are hands-on.”
Earlier this year, students felt they had little direction of what their next year would look like as officials worked on transferring classes to Port Angeles High School.
The programs that survive will add to the 54 career and technical educational classes already at the high school, Jackson said.
While most classes will continue in some form, cosmetology and culinary arts will end, he said.
Peninsula College will take on the cosmetology program over the summer to get students as close to their certificates as possible, and options are being considered for students who will need more hours, he said.
The culinary arts instructor has accepted a position at Forks High School, Jackson said, adding it would have been difficult to move the program to Port Angeles High School.
The Skills Center is likely closing because four of the five school districts participating decided to pull out of their agreement.
The Port Angeles School District is too small to operate the Skills Center alone under state law, which says a district must have at least 12,000 students to have a skills center, Jackson said. The district has less than 4,000 students.
Also, declining enrollment has led to the center operating in a deficit over recent years.
The Skills Center is supposed to have 150 students, but only has about 70 this year.
The Skills Center has lost on average more than $200,000 per year since 2009, an amount historically picked up by Port Angeles High School.
Jackson said at the inception of the Skills Center there was a “gentlemen’s agreement” that Port Angeles School District, as the host, would pick up the tab.
Jackson said the decrease in enrollment is likely caused by new state mandates requiring students to have 24 academic credits to graduate.
“The people in Olympia that are making decisions regarding youth couldn’t be any further from a classroom and they make decisions that are not in the best interest of our youth,” he said. “That needs to be dealt with.”
Port of Port Angeles Commissioner Colleen McAleer told Jackson during the meeting there is a potential solution for the Skills Center.
She said the district should study what jobs are available locally, increase equivalency credits and offer branch campuses for the Skills Center.
“I’d love to see the business community get involved,” she said. “We’ve got to stop exporting our kids.”
Jackson said that no matter the fate of the Skills Center programs, the building — owned by Peninsula College and PASD — will continue to be used.
Exactly how it will be used is yet to be seen, but Jackson said there are ongoing discussions about how the building could be utilized for workforce training.
“You will not see the Lincoln Center close,” he said. “It will be a vibrant and productive building.”
Jackson said that it’s exciting to see the community actively involved in the conversation about the fate of the Skills Center and said he values the community’s input.
Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected].