Tech center budget passes, despite opposition

March 22, 2019

The Somerset County Technology Center is forging ahead on a new program and budget increase for the 2019-20 school year, despite one school district voting against the measure.

During a joint operating committee meeting Thursday, center officials said seven out of the eight sending school districts have already approved the proposed secondary education budget of $5,004,678.39.

The Somerset school board was the only one to vote against the measure.

Administrative Director Karen Remick said the budget should be finalized at the committee’s next meeting on April 17.

“It will be on public review until our April meeting now that it’s been approved by the sufficient number of sending districts,” she said.

Included in the budget is an 8.3 percent increase for a service occupations program. Remick said the program is designed to teach students the basics of the service industry.

The center’s budget needs to be approved by a two-thirds majority of the participating school districts and a majority of the school board members. The school districts are Meyersdale, North Star, Shade-Central City, Berlin Brothersvalley, Rockwood, Shanksville-Stonycreek, Somerset and Turkeyfoot Valley.

In an email to the Daily American, Somerset Superintendent Krista Mathias said the district, with roughly one-third of the tech center’s enrollment, will pay roughly one-third of the cost of the new program. She said Somerset will bear $40,000 of the program’s price tag.

“Our board and administration have worked very diligently to watch costs, raising taxes only once in the last seven years,” she wrote. “(A)dding a new program was simply not in line with the District’s philosophy of keeping costs down.”

Mathias added that since a majority of the school districts voted for the new budget, Somerset would have to pay those costs as well.

Remick said passing the budget is a process that she respects.

“There are checks and balances in place for a reason, and we just follow those processes,” she said.

The service industry program would begin with sophomores and could be a steppingstone to other center programs. Remick said the center does not have a program for students who struggle with the rigors of a technology education program, and a service program could fill that need.

Many committee members said this is a program needed at the center and something districts have been asking for as another means for students to succeed in the center’s programs.

“We’ve got to strive to give the kids more than what we are doing,” Clair Saylor, the center’s Rockwood board member, said.

Remick said center officials will visit local technology centers that have already implemented a service program and finalize items such as the curriculum and staffing to get the program off the ground.

Center officials said most of the surveys from participating districts to gauge student interest in the program were very positive.

“The numbers (the districts) estimated they could send are strong,” Remick said. “It wasn’t like three or four in the morning and three or four in the afternoon. It was more like 12 to 15 in the morning and 12 to 15 in the afternoon.”

Remick said there has been discussion about opening up the program to schools such as Windber and Conemaugh Township, which are not affiliated with the center, but most officials want to finalize a program with the contributing school districts first.

Despite the issues with the budget, center officials are excited to get the program up and running soon and start admitting students.

“Hopefully, we will be able to meet the needs of our service industries in the county that can’t find enough employees and the students who are interested in that type of program,” Remick said.