MUSKEGON — Backers of a ballot proposal to finance operations of a new career and technical training center in Muskegon County say the facility is long overdue and will expand vocational education for both high school students and adults.
The Muskegon Area Intermediate School District will ask voters in a special countywide election planned for Sept. 24 to approve a 1-mill levy that would initially generate about $3 million annually to operate technical education programs housed in the new center. The property tax levy, if passed, would enable the Muskegon Area ISD to receive about $900,000 in state aid to support career and technical training.
The Muskegon Area ISD is partnering with Muskegon Community College on the project. MCC will provide the land on its campus and financing for the center, then lease it to the ISD to operate. The partnership will provide for a seamless transition for high school students from technical training to the two-year community college, including transferring college credit hours.
Muskegon County presently lacks a local career and technical training center. That forces high school students in the area to travel to neighboring counties, most often Newaygo County, to get what they need.
A consortium of eight school districts also presently provides some specialized career training through the Muskegon Public Schools, but the program is limited in both course offerings and capacity, and the participating school districts are unable to keep up with costly upgrades in the needed machinery and equipment required to teach certain skill trades.
“What we can provide here in the county in partnership with the college is going to be far superior,” said Mike Carpenter, program director for career and technical training at the Muskegon Area ISD. “The need has never been more apparent to us.”
Locating a center in Muskegon County will make career and technical training far more convenient for students to access and economical for school districts to offer, enable school districts and the ISD to adjust and expand course offerings in the years ahead, and put to better use the $2,000 per student schools now spend to send students to Newaygo County, Carpenter said.
The center would allow the Muskegon Area ISD to more than double the number of courses offered and initially expand enrollment to as many as 1,000 students a year, a 72 percent increase in the existing capacity offered through the existing Career Tech Consortium Program.
Muskegon Community College will use the facility in the off-hours to expand its adult skills training. The program would make use of existing space on MCC’s campus now used for technical training as well as provide an additional 40,000 to 50,000 square feet of space for new classrooms and labs.
“This is a choice that too long has eluded the students of Muskegon County,” MCC President Frank Marczak said. “This is the next logical step to make more options available and do so in a setting where those students can readily get a career option and career placement.”
The kind of opportunity is becoming increasingly important as part of a community’s economic base.
Todd Battle, executive director of the economic development agency Muskegon Area First, calls a career and technical training center a “very big need” locally. The organization is pleased to see the proposal go forward, particularly given the region’s large manufacturing sector where upgrading job skills are a continual need, Battle said.
“Definitely, the resources that would be added there would be an added benefit to the community,” Battle said.
Among the course programs planned are computer network administration, commercial and graphic arts, PC maintenance and repair, auto body and automotive technology, health technologies, computer-assisted design, construction trades, machine technologies, culinary arts, public safety and horticulture.
The Muskegon Area ISD’s proposal represents the latest effort to develop a technical training center in Muskegon County.
Voters rejected a 1996 proposal to a bond issue and a tax levy to build and operate a $25 million center. Backers of the idea have worked since then to understand voters’ views and craft a new proposal that lowered costs and leveraged the abilities of both the ISD and MCC.
Two surveys taken in the past 18 months have indicated the proposal may find strong support among voters.
In a January 2001 random telephone survey, 77 percent of the respondents indicated that they would support a 1-mill levy for technical training. A follow-up survey in March of this year found that, even with the down economy, 67 percent of the respondents voiced support for the levy.