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School board talks through CTE high school plan

By Josh Bergeron
josh.bergeron@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education members agree on the need for a career- and technical education-focused high school, and the preferred plan would spend more than $9 million at Koontz Elementary School to make it happen.

The school board reviewed a plan Tuesday that would require moving elementary school students out of Koontz, renovating and some new construction before moving in students in programs ranging from masonry to computer programming. Career and Technical Education Director Mandy Mills said the school could use teachers already on the RSS staff as well as instructors from Rowan-Cabarrus Community College to defray any additional salary expense.

A group of students would be transported to Koontz in the morning and return to their high school around the middle of the day. In the afternoon, a new group of students would travel to Koontz.

An effect of the change could be pushing out existing Koontz students to surrounding schools, said Chairman Josh Wagner. But Wagner said the decision facing school board members isn’t whether to create the CTE school, which would also serve as RSS’ early college, but where to put it.

“I think we’re way past that. It’s just a matter of confirming where we want it and where it makes the most sense,” Wagner said. “We need to get the program going as soon as we can.”

Wagner said Koontz was identified as the preferred site because it’s centrally located and it’s among the newer buildings in the school system, so the renovation work required is minimal by comparison.

On Monday, the school board didn’t vote on the Koontz CTE proposal and asked for Mike Miller, RSS’ consultant on redistricting, to compile a scenario for where existing Koontz students would be relocated.

The proposed curriculum and facilities to include in the school was determined, in part, through jobs that are in demand in the Charlotte region as well as surveys provided to industries in Rowan County, Chamber of Commerce members and students.

And, in her presentation, Mills recommended that the CTE school offer classes for trades that include: carpentry, drafting, electrical, HVAC, masonry, machining, mechatronics, robotics and engineering, welding, computer programming, computer engineering, graphic and web design, networking, nursing, biomedical technology, automotive technology, logistics, early childhood education, culinary arts and cosmetology.

Among the jobs Mills highlighted in a jobs report for the highest paying and growing careers in the Charlotte region were: electricians, medical and clinical laboratory technicians, heating A/C and refrigeration mechanics and installers, computer systems analysts, registered nurses and web developers.

In the local survey, nursing was the most popular answer to a question about which programs students would participate in. Second was culinary arts. Third was auto mechanics. Among employers who responded to the survey, “electrical” was the top choice for a program that would be beneficial in training future employees. Technical support, welding and machining were other top choices.

If the school system chose not to use current RSS teachers to lead classes at Koontz, the salary cost added to RSS’ budget would be an estimated $1.48 million, Mills said.

By using current teachers, the additional cost would decrease to $807,600. Under that scenario, Mills’ presentation showed the school system would hire teachers in 12 specific fields, including cosmetology, logistics, networking, HVAC, and electrical.

If the CTE school also used instructors from Rowan-Cabarrus Community College, the total salary cost would be an additional $201,900 to the school system’s budget.

Jonathan Chamberlain, RCCC’s chief of college environment, said the college felt the plan would be a win-win for both entities and that he liked the CTE school idea.

Board member Alisha Byrd-Clark recommended that Mills also use Livingstone College’s culinary program instructors to further decrease salary costs.

As for renovation and construction costs, Architect Paul Boney, of the firm LS3P in Charlotte, said a $9.09 million estimate included in a presentation Monday did not include so-called “soft costs” such as furniture. The final cost to renovate and fill the facility with equipment would be more like $13 million or $14 million, he said. And the Rowan-Salisbury school board would ensure a lower price by making a decision faster because of rising construction costs across the industry, Boney said.

A change suggested by board member Travis Allen would increase the size of a space proposed for automotive classes. At present, a proposed metal building to be erected adjacent to the existing school would be just 1,379 square feet. That’s too small, Allen said.

Optimistically, RSS could start soliciting bids for the project in September, with a construction timeline of eight to 10 months.

Wagner said both the school board and Rowan County Board of Commissioners, which would need to approve funding for the project, are excited about the proposed school.

Contact editor Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4248.

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