Wednesday January 16, 2013

PITTSFIELD -- The School Committee has put off adopting a revised high school vocational education plan amid sustained opposition over eliminating a pair of vocational programs.

By a 5-2 vote, with James B. Conant and Kathleen A. Amuso opposed, the seven-member committee Tuesday night delayed its decision on a revamped curriculum that calls for 14 vocational programs expected to meet the Berkshire’s future workforce needs, according to city school officials.

The revision is part of Taconic’s overall education plan that must be approved by Massachusetts education officials before the city and state can start discussing what type of high school project is needed on the Taconic site.

The committee tabled the vocational proposal -- which requires two consecutive votes for approval -- until its Jan. 23 meeting, in part, to determine if there is a need and a demand for auto body workers and metal fabricators in the county.

"I’m not going to vote on anything until we get more data," said committee member Terry Kinnas.

The board has had two months to review the plan, but the lack of action is based on local opposition to the proposed removal of auto body repair and metal fabricating from the course offerings. A third course, power equipment technology, is also slated for elimination, with five new programs added, including early childhood care, office technology and engineering.


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For the third consecutive School Committee meeting, several tradesmen and alumni of Taconic’s vocational programs cited the need for replacement auto body workers and metal fabricators for those retiring in the next decade. They also pointed out those trained at Taconic have job opportunities outside the Berkshires.

School Department officials appeared frustrated by the delay, concerned it will hinder efforts to move a school project forward for the Valentine Road campus.

"If you approve this [tonight], I’m ready to call the MSBA to get going on design and cost," said interim schools Superintendent Gordon Noseworthy, referring to the Massachusetts School Building Authority.

The education plan for Taconic is the final step of the Pittsfield School Building Needs Commission and Massachusetts School Building Authority’s collaboration in laying the groundwork toward determining the type and price of a high school project.

However, the SBA hasn’t said when the full feasibility study would begin, which would provide an estimate for the cost of a project. The full feasibility study could take up to 18 months.

As of Oct. 1, Pittsfield High and Taconic have a combined 630 students in vocational education, nearly 40 tuitioned in from surrounding school districts.

Finalizing an updated education plan would complete a more than two- year preliminary study that also included assessing the physical condition of the current 43-year-old Taconic and more than 80- year-old Pittsfield High.

Once the preliminary review is complete, the full feasibility study would begin, which will estimate the cost of several options, the commission is considering for the Taconic site. Among the options are renovating, renovating with additions, building a new school or doing nothing.

If a project is approved, the state will reimburse the city 78 percent of the construction cost. While the SBA process forced the city to put forth just one high school for consideration, the state agency has viewed both Pittsfield High and Taconic as part of any overall building project proposal, which most city and school officials have been advocating from the beginning.

Even though Pittsfield High, built in 1931, is nearly twice as old as Taconic, which was built in 1969, SBA officials have said they prefer to renovate, rather than replace, Pittsfield High because architecturally and physically it’s in better condition than Taconic.