Program cuts at Jeff Tech will affect 27 students

REYNOLDSVILLE — As another school year is ending, some students at Jeff Tech are not wondering about their summer plans, but about what course of study to pursue next year.

May 3, the Jeff Tech Operating Committee voted unanimously to eliminate the marketing/retailing and lumbering programs offered at Jeff Tech.

This action affects 27 undergraduate students.

“I’m very upset with the decision of the school board,” junior Mathew Garner said. “Because (lumbering) has a lot of opportunities to offer out in the work field. The program teaches you different techniques that companies around here use.”

According to Michael Knobloch, facilities and adult education coordinator, an ad hoc committee was formed in early Fall 2011 to take a look at all of the programs offered at Jeff Tech.

Mike Smith from the Brookville Area School Board, Gary Conrad from the Punxsutawney Area School Board, Shelly Caine from the Brockway Area School Board and Melissa Mowrey from the DuBois Area School Board served on the committee.

The committee took a variety of factors into consideration before it brought the recommendation before the board, including, enrollment history, placement history, industrial certifications, PSSA and National Occupancy Competency test scores.

“We, like all public schools, are facing a budget crunch,” Knobloch said.

Overall, the school has seen a 10.7 percent decline in enrollment over the last few years, Jeff Tech Principal John Kimmel said.

The marketing/retailing program has been in place since the school opened in 1969, and the lumbering program has been around since the mid-1970s.

But combined, those two programs would have had only 27 students enrolled for next year.

“With the way the economy is, unfortunately, they were programs that had to be cut,” Smith said.

Kimmel said the 27 students affected by this change have a few options available to them.

Jeff Tech is offering shop changes for the students, which means a student can go to a different shop of his or her choice.

“They’re guaranteed enrollment, even if a shop is full, we’ll make sure that they fit in,” Kimmel said.

If none of the other shops seem to be a good fit to a student, he or she can go back to their home school, without fear of being behind.

“Each of the four sending school districts have said that all shop credits will transfer back to home school,” Kimmel said. “It’s not that the students will be behind or have to repeat a grade if they return (to home districts). They will still be on pace with where they were. That was a major concern of some of the parents.”

Current juniors set to graduate in 2013, such as Garner, will still receive their certificates from the program they were in; Kimmel said students can receive certificates after only successfully finishing half of the hours offered by the course.

The decision by the Jeff Tech Operating Committee means the number of programs offered by the school has decreased from 15 to 13, but the committee is now exploring other potential programs to bring to the school, such as an introduction into business.

“We’re trying to develop a course that teaches how to start your own business,” Conrad said. “We’re not just dropping these seniors; we’re going to teach them how to start a business on their own.”

Smith also said the committee is looking at around five potential programs that may benefit a lot more students and provide higher paying jobs.

One of the programs up for consideration is an HVAC (heating ventilation air conditioning) program.

Kimmel said Jeff Tech may be able to offer new programs during the 2013-14 school year because it takes significant planning to introduce a new program. The school must get a space ready, find an instructor, buy equipment and recruit new students.

Conrad said lumbering and marketing/retailing may not be the only two courses dropped, as there are other programs with low enrollment, as well.

Conrad said the committee must be responsible not only to the students, but also to the taxpayers.

Harry Bressler, who was appointed to the lumbering program’s occupational advisory committee — a committee made up of industry professionals — more than 30 years ago, said the decision made by Jeff Tech was a poor one.

Bressler worked at the Stella Jones plant in Falls Creek for 38 years and said at least 10 of the plant’s 50 employees are graduates of Jeff Tech’s lumbering program.

Bressler said he made a presentation to the ad hoc committee and to the entire Joint Operating Committee and was told no programs were to be eliminated.

“I think it’s a huge mistake by the Joint Operating Committee to do away with a program that teaches safety and is one of the No. 1 employers in this part of Pennsylvania,” Bressler said. “I don’t think they thought it through.”

Larry McGuire contributed to this report.