CTE teachers finding ways around budgetary constraints

Difficult at times, CTE programs must deal with expensive equipment, repairs and more students

POULSBO — With an increasing number of students interested in technical careers, local instructors are finding it progressively difficult to fund their Career and Technical Education programs, which work to prepare students for post-high school studies or work in engineering and manufacturing fields.

Eric Nieland, engineering and manufacturing teacher at North Kitsap High School, said the budget for his annual program is $7,000 — about half of what it was when he began teaching, if you take inflation into account.

“It’s a lot, it is,” he said of his program’s budget. “But think about this: 20 years ago, when inflation was lower and a dollar bought more, I had twice the budget than I do now … it’s tougher and there are all kinds of reasons for that.”

One reason is because more students are taking CTE courses when and where they can. Seven of the top 10 fastest-growing American industries in 2016 were related to construction, according to Sageworks. Computer systems design and related services topped off the list at No. 1. There’s no denying that the industry is booming.

Dianna Palermo, CTE teacher at Kingston High School, said if students plan to spend money on education after high school, the college credits they earn now through CTE can go a long way.

“There’s a huge portion of our kids where none of their families went to college,” she said. “It can be a huge deal when someone gets college credit.”

Palermo’s program, unlike Nieland’s, offers “tech prep credits” to students who finish with an 80 percent score or better. The local community college and high schools work together to articulate standards students must meet to earn college credit.

District CTE director John Waller said he is working with Olympic College to expand the opportunities offered, like the one at KHS, to more programs within the district.

“Our teachers are interested in meeting those requirements,” Waller said. “We have several [deals] already in place, and we’re moving forward with that.”

Even if some students don’t attend college or go into a computer science or engineering field, NKHS sophomore Audrey Cole said skills learned in CTE courses are important for just about everyone to understand.

But in providing those educational opportunities, money is an issue.

“If I have to replace anything, it’s going to cost me $1,000,” Palermo said, pointing to computers and various tools around her classroom. “And I can’t buy cheap or it won’t last.”

While Nieland acknowledged that the science department’s budget, for example, is “dismally smaller” than his, he argued that his program requires expensive technology and pricey repairs. When you have “150 novices” learning how to use expensive equipment, pieces inevitably need fixing, he said, pointing to 3D printers in need of repair.

“We’ve been successful with some local community grants, we get a lot of donations in materials,” he said. “And it’s nice that it happens, but it’s also frustrating that it has to happen that way. You shouldn’t have to do charity drives for your public school program. It’s a good program, it’s helping kids be successful in high-end fields, but the frustrating part of funding is there as well.”

One charity drive that Nieland is referring to is his school’s winter drive, which gathers clothes and toys. His program participated by doing a bicycle drive for North Kitsap Fishline. The community donated used bikes and treadmills for one of his students’ previous projects, but “a lot of kids’ bikes came from that,” and he couldn’t use them for that specific project.

“It was a great thing for students in that first-level class to take these bikes apart, clean them up and swap parts back and forth,” Nieland said. “It takes maybe three bicycles now to make a good one because they’ve been ridden … It’s good in every case to be charitable, but in this case, they learned some real tangible lessons as well as contributing to [Fishline].

He added that his program ought to go back to the supportive community more on an annual basis. He concluded by saying that although he often struggles to find ways to pay for equipment and repairs, it’s still an above-average program.

Palermo agreed.

“It’d be nice to have twice the space, where you have a workshop on one side and more benches” she said. “I could have materials for everybody. But in this industry, you make do with what you have — and we do a really good job with what we have.”

Jacob Moore is a reporter for Kitsap News Group. Contact him at jmoore@soundpublishing.com.

From left, North Kitsap High School seniors Donovan LeRoy and Ethan Rhodes work on their projects during a Jan. 30 after-school CTE shop session at NKHS. Jacob Moore/Kitsap News Group

From left, North Kitsap High School seniors Donovan LeRoy and Ethan Rhodes work on their projects during a Jan. 30 after-school CTE shop session at NKHS. Jacob Moore/Kitsap News Group