The Benefits of a Single, Statewide Career and Technical Education District

By Clifton Long.

student working on car on lift

The promise of Career and Technical Education (CTE) in our state is that we will train high school students for success in high-wage, high-skill, high-demand careers. The McLure Foundation projects that 18,600 such jobs, which are attainable by CTE grads, will become available in Vermont in the next 10 years. More than 10,000 additional jobs will be available to CTE grads who go on to obtain a bachelor’s degree. At wages of $40,000 to $65,000 per year, these jobs represent nearly $1.5 billion in salaries for young Vermonters, perhaps $3 billion in revenue for Vermont businesses and possibly hundreds of millions in tax revenue for the state. The benefits to our citizens, communities and commerce are difficult to overestimate.

And yet, Vermont’s CTE system is preparing students for only a fraction of these jobs. The currently pending state CTE plan affords us the perfect opportunity to make structural changes which will enable us to effectively train students for these careers.

CTE in Vermont Today

Vermont has 17 CTE centers governed by a variety of models, usually as a part of the district in which they are located. This fragmentation makes industry cooperation difficult, complicates human resource management, creates confusing funding structures, defies curriculum standardization and precludes possible economies of scale.

Economies of Scale

  • If the Associated General Contractors of Vermont wants to work with CTE centers to train students for the projected 2,700 heavy equipment operator, diesel engine mechanic and industrial machinery mechanic jobs that will become available over the next decade, they would need to coordinate separately with each of the 17 centers.
  • A teacher ordering 40 plumbing valves will not have the negotiating clout of a purchasing agent buying 600.

Human Resources and Professional Development

  • If a master electrician with 25 years of experience, but no bachelor’s degree, making $75,000 per year seeks to become a teacher, he or she might make, by contract, as little as $40,000 per year.
  • Professional development designed for regular education teachers does not address the unique needs of CTE teachers.
  • Centers cannot budget for their own marketing director, human resources director, purchasing agent, professional development coordinator, business manager, technology integrationist, science teacher, literacy instructor, equipment maintenance person, outreach coordinator, etc., and, as a result, teachers, administrators and support personnel are forced to cover a variety of tasks for which they are likely not trained.

Funding and Governance

  • When CTE-center funds are commingled with home district monies, the result is highly confusing and could possibly result in the use of CTE funds for district obligations and vice-versa.
  • CTE centers are often governed and their funds are controlled by the districts in which they are housed. The schools sending — and paying the tuition of — the students often only have advisory representation, even though their dollars make up the centers’ budgets.

Benefits of a Unified System

A single, merged, statewide CTE district would solve many of these problems. Industries would have a single contact person. A separate teacher contract could base salaries on professional experience and licensure. Consolidated purchasing would generate significant cost savings in every area. Staff development could be implemented to serve the needs of teachers who were formerly industry professionals. Curriculum directors could ensure that STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) and literacy programming would be relevant to specific career clusters, vastly improving student buy-in.

Additional benefits might include uniformity of technology throughout classrooms, statewide initiatives that draw students from different centers for targeted training and instructional staff who rotate through different centers for specific, modular instruction.

Each center could have a board made up of sending school representatives and each of those boards could send a representative to a statewide board that would govern the district. A single district would greatly simplify coordination with the Agency of Education and would be an obvious choice for overseeing adult education — the number of anticipated openings far surpasses the number of likely CTE graduates, and a centralized district would be perfectly positioned to retrain adults for new careers.

Only a stand-alone CTE district can take full advantage of these job opportunities for Vermonters. Ten years from now, if we have filled those nearly 30,000 living-wage jobs with CTE graduates and re-trained adults, the positive effect on Vermont will be felt for generations.

Clifton Long teaches plumbing and heating at the Central Vermont Career Center.  He’s a former chair of the Orange North Supervisory Union board, a former member of the Vermont School Boards Association board of directors, and has 25 years of experience as a plumbing business owner.