Regional Technical Academy

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(Host) On Town Meeting Day, voters in Chittenden County will have the chance to authorize the formation of a board to study the feasibility of constructing a Regional Technical Academy. Commentator Tim McQuiston has an overview.

(McQuiston) The new technical school would be located in Essex and would combine the courses currently taught at the Burlington and Essex high schools. Planners envision a program with a broad curriculum drawing students from across Chittenden and parts of Franklin and Grand Isle counties. The total construction cost would be $58 million. It would be the most expensive school ever built in Vermont. The state would be the largest contributor at about $45 million, with federal grants and business and individual contributors making up the rest.

The school would offer a two-year program geared mostly for juniors and seniors. The business community is very interested in the building of such a school. They?ve lobbied hard on its behalf.

The local chamber of commerce has been quarterbacking the effort. There?s been a stream of ads running on commercial radio stations in the area featuring the voices of well-known business leaders. There?s a professionally developed website. And, of course in this day and age, there?s the email campaign, which is part advocacy and part cheerleading.

If voters authorize the formation of a school board and district, local voters will then vote to approve the final plans in November. The school would be up and running in September 2005.

And there is a great need for the job skills this tech center would endeavor to meet, from computer networking to auto repair. Technicians at all levels are in short supply. This puts a squeeze on business development and economic growth.

Meanwhile, in the year 2000 graduating class, only sixty three and a half percent of Vermont high school seniors went on to college, or otherwise continued their education. That means more than a third of seniors went right to work, or right to unemployment.

The need is there, so, what?s the problem? The cost. Forty-five million is a lot for the state to pick up. Most of the burden will be borne by taxpayers not even in Chittenden County,? and the rest of the state thinks Chittenden County gets enough money as it is. Chittenden is the only county where the per capita income is above the state average.

The enrollment numbers are also problematic. To have a complete curriculum, proponents of the plan say, there need to be about 1,200 students. Right now, there are about 750 enrolled in Essex and Burlington tech ed programs, and proponents say the first class of the new school would have about 960 students. And getting from 750 or even 960 students to 1,200 would seem to be a stretch.

Meanwhile, if the school is successful and does draw that many students, it could create enrollment, cost and curriculum problems at other high schools in the region.

At that projected size, it would become one of largest – if not the largest – high schools in the state.

This is Timothy McQuiston

Timothy McQuiston is editor of Vermont Business Magazine.

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