Flagstaff Unified School District and CAVIAT are joining the statewide push at the Arizona Legislature for more funding for career programs such as automotive repair, construction and engineering.
Even a small increase in funding would be of great benefit to FUSD and the Coconino Association for Vocations, Industry and Technology, said Brent Neilson, the superintendent of CAVIAT.
A lot of the funding for CTE programs comes from CAVIAT, which was formed in 2001 by a group of school districts in Coconino County. The district, which gets funding from secondary property taxes and state appropriations, had to be approved by voters. The Flagstaff school district joined CAVIAT in 2004.
The state started cutting funding to Joint Technical Education Districts, like CAVIAT, in 2009, Neilson said. In 2012, the state cut all funding for freshman-level career and technical programs.
Over the years, teachers in districts across the state have made do with less and less funding for these programs, said Dave Dirksen, FUSD’s director of College and Career Development.
“But that rubber band of funding can only be stretched so far before it snaps,” he said.
To FUSD CTE teachers that meant trying to squeeze four years’ worth of learning into three, It also meant that the district had to save up money to replace Flagstaff High School’s aging welding shop. That money could have gone to replacing outdated computers or other aging equipment for other CTE programs, Dirksen said.
“Every time I look at my budget, I would think, if I had just a little of that money from the welding shop, I could replace a 3-D printer here, upgrade a computer lab there,” he said.
But the welding lab hadn’t been updated since nearly the year Flagstaff High School had been built. The lab was too small for the classes, the equipment was aging and there is always the safety factor for both students and instructors, he said.
Even after saving for several years the district didn’t have enough CTE funds saved to pay for the entire project, Dirksen said. Money had to be drawn from the district maintenance and operations budget.
The state did restore about $30 million in funding to JTEDS in 2015, but that’s not enough to replace what was lost, Neilson said. CAVIAT and the other state JTEDs are hoping that a bill proposed by Sen. Sylvia Allen that would restore about $4.5 million for four programs -- automotive, construction, engineering and agriculture-- will be approved by both the Legislature and Gov. Doug Ducey.
Ducey did promise in his State of the State address Monday more funding for CTE programs, although he didn’t detail how or where the money would come from.
“I know what some people will say: ‘See, you were able to make due with less funding,’” Dirksen said. But stretching that budget means putting off the purchase of new equipment that students need to use in their future careers and repairing equipment that is outdated and may no longer be in use.
“The things I could do with another year’s worth of funding,” Locke mused.
He said he could purchase licenses for online testing programs so more of his students could test for more automotive repair certificates. He could purchase new lawnmower engines for first year students to experiment and practice taking apart.
The purchase of a small lawnmower engine doesn’t sound like much, especially when they’re just used to teach students how to take an engine apart, he said. But after a few years of being torn down by students who’ve never used a wrench before, bolts are stripped, pieces are missing and sometimes things don’t get put back together the same way.
An extra year of schooling can also mean a great deal to the students taking the class.
“I would have gotten a head start on a lot of this,” said Coconino High School Senior Kami Lawrence, who is one of Locke’s students.
She’s taken classes in both welding and auto repair, but switched to auto repair only during her junior year because she didn’t have the time to take both. She’s hoping to get her certification by the end of her senior year and start working in the industry.
Shane Moore, a junior at Coconino High, is also a student in Locke’s automotive tech program and hoping to get into the industry after finishing school. If the program got additional funding, Moore wanted the shop to get more tools, there never seem to be enough, he said. He also thought additional funds could be spent on more freshman-level programs, such as showing students how to repair brakes on a car.
“I don’t know what I would have done if this program wasn’t available,” he said. “Probably just finished high school and spent time after graduation looking for a job.”
Today’s CTE classes go beyond what was once considered “Shop” and “Home Ec.” Dirksen said. FUSD offers classes at the high school level in welding, cabinetmaking, digital photography, business management, sports medicine, graphic/web design, precision machining, interior design and merchandising or film and TV.
The students in Locke’s auto classes learn more than to just fix their car. Coconino is one of seven high schools and colleges that offer Automotive Service Excellence certification program in the state, Locke said. A student who finishes Coconino High School’s Automotive Technologies can apply for and receive certification and can start work as an auto technician in any state after graduation from high school. The state mandates that all CTE programs end in a certificate.
Students in Patti Pastor’s Culinary Arts program at Flag High can compete at a state and even national level for full-ride scholarships to some of the most prestigious culinary schools in the nation.
Even students who don’t go on to a career in one of the many CTE fields that FUSD offers benefit from the programming. The classes teach important hands-on skills in science, technology, engineering and Math.
Three-quarters of the 1,500 students at Flagstaff High School will take a CTE class at some point before they graduate, Dirksen said. Most get their first taste during their freshman year, when students are encouraged to take a yearlong rotation to test-drive all seven programs. Students get a sense of what they like and don’t like and what they may want to pursue, he said.
Dirkesen said demand for some programs at Coconino and Flagstaff high schools is so great that teachers like Brian Locke, who teacher automotive technology at Coconino, teach classes after school. In some cases, the teachers are teaching classes with students who are on two different levels in the program in the same class period. He also has teachers who teach two different CTE classes -- one teacher at Coconino High School teaches interior design and culinary arts.
“They’ll do whatever it takes for these kids,” he said.