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Mon, Oct. 14

Funding cuts worry JTED, local school officials

PRESCOTT - The Mountain Institute Joint Technical Education District has seen its popularity grow over the last three of its seven-year tenure, with double-digit enrollment of high school students each year.

But the region's educational leaders fear a proposed $380,000 budget cut for the 2016-17 school year, compounding a $450,000 reduction this year, could stall, even thwart, its progress.

The state funding formula proposed for 2016-17 appears to punish rural JTED districts that do not now participate in multi-school vocational and career training courses at centralized campus locations, they said.

The Mountain Institute JTED is one of 14 across the state that serves eligible high school students in western Yavapai County enrolled in district public, private, charter and home schools. This JTED has some 1,450 students enrolled between its central Prescott campus with about 450 students and 1,000 in its various satellite programs. The JTED, too, funds six programs for multi-school students at Yavapai College.

This year's JTED budget is $2.4 million.

Mountain Institute JTED Schools Superintendent Jeramy Plumb said the predicted impact at this time is somewhat of "a moving target" as there is a campaign is underway to encourage state lawmakers to revisit this issue in their January session.

"That's our hope," Plumb said.

If unsuccessful, though, Plumb said the district will be forced to cap enrollments and reduce program costs despite growing student interest in courses that range from aviation and automotive mechanics to nursing and sports medicine, information technology, welding and culinary arts. District staff would likely remain static, or be further reduced; seven of 17 positions were cut this year, he said.

The proposed budget cuts reduce the base support level of funding provided to districts and charters who have students taking a JTED class either at their own schools or at the central campus. The cut would drop the funding to the schools from 100 percent to 92.5 percent, with the Mountain Institute JTED receiving an additional 7.5 percent reduction of its state allocation.

All in all, Mountain Institute JTED's projected funding loss is $342,960, JTED leaders explained.

Yavapai County Schools Superintendent Tim Carter said he fears legislative leaders will stand firm on the funding as they push toward centralization rather than financing individual school programs.

Philosophically, Carter said he understands, and endorses, cost-efficiencies garnered through shared educational services. Yet Carter said he also appreciates that rural districts are more challenged with such endeavors because of distance between schools, schedules and the ability to find enough certified staff to offer specialized courses. Some JTED courses require two to three years, with students earning a technical certification suitable whether they are headed to college, the workforce or the military.

The centralization model is one all county districts need to consider, but it should not be forced because of a legislative rule change that limits the dollars they have to do what's best for students, Carter said.

If the Legislature does not change course on this funding formula, Carter said he envisions some Yavapai County districts with just satellite programs will cease to exist.

Mountain Institute JTED is a mix of centralized and satellite programs, a factor Plumb said puts it in a more favorable position than others. The funding formulas, though, are likely to impede all programs, he noted.

Prescott Unified School District Chief Finance Officer Keith Dickerson hailed Moutain Institute JTED for its continued commitment to working with all area high schools to offer such potpourri of courses.

"The professionalism (Mountain Institute) JTED has shown in communicating this, and really digging in the trenches with the districts to say that we are partners in serving the students and resolving these financial problems, is second to none in this state," Dickerson said.

Chino Valley Schools Superintendent Duane Howard was frustrated by what he sees as yet another legislative slap at rural districts.

"We are the greatest benefactors of the JTED campus and curriculum, and what they do for our kids," said Howard, noting 80 percent of Chino Valley High School's 750 students are enrolled in one or more JTED courses.

"I'm befuddled,' Howard said. "...We (rural school districts) have been beaten up, and shortchanged at every turn. Our budgets have been decimated. This is the one thing that was working. Why are we fixing this? It's not broken.'

Follow Nanci Hutson on Twitter@HutsonNanci

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