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PITTSFIELD -- The School Committee is on the verge of endorsing a revamped city-wide vocational education plan -- a key step in moving ahead with plans for a renovated or new Taconic High School.

The committee Wednesday night initially gave unanimous approval to a vocational curriculum of 15 programs -- a net increase of two over the current offerings.

The list includes a subcommittee's recommendation to retain auto body repair and metal fabrication, originally targeted for elimination by the School Department.

The school board's final vote on the vocation programs is expected at its March 13 meeting. If approved, it will be forwarded to the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education for review and the state agency's approval.

The vocational education plan is the final step of the School Building Needs Commission's collaboration with the Massachusetts School Building Authority (SBA) in laying the groundwork toward determining the scale and cost of a new or renovated Taconic High School.

The full feasibility study for the project could begin as early as this fall, city school officials have said, and be completed by July 2014.

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 Tac onic and more than 80-year-old Pittsfield High.

The revamped curriculum of 15 vocational programs is part of Taconic's overall education plan, which DESE must approve before the city and state can start planning a new high school project at the Taconic site.

While the entire seven-member board favored the plan, the panel was divided on whether the state would back their decision.

"I think the DESE will reject this curriculum," added committee Chairman Alfred E. "Alf" Barbalunga. "If that happens it will put us behind the eight-ball" for the school project.

Committeewoman Katherine Yon doesn't believe state educators will be that heartless.

"We look for support from DESE, guidance from DESE to tweak what we have," Yon said.

Given Pittsfield's future student enrollment projections and the city's recent history of underfunding the existing vocational programs, Barbalunga and committeeman James Conant felt 10 to 12 programs was more realistic.

"I just don't know how we're going to support 15 programs," Conant said. "[And] an increase in the school budget for fiscal 2014 is unlikely."

Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi, also a School Committee member, vowed to make more of a commitment to the city's vocational students.

"If we have a high-functioning vocational education [plan], we'll attract more students than is on this paper," Bianchi said. The mayor was referring to the 720 students city school officials project will enroll in the proposed 15 vocational courses each year.

To reach Dick Lindsay:
rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6233.