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Deficit spending drives P-B decision to withdraw as partner from JVCTC

The decision for Pingree-Buchanan Public Schools to withdraw as a partner from James Valley Career & Technology Center was difficult but necessary, according to Denise Harrington, superintendent.

The decision for Pingree-Buchanan Public Schools to withdraw as a partner from James Valley Career & Technology Center was difficult but necessary, according to Denise Harrington, superintendent.

Pingree-Buchanan Public Schools will be operating on deficit spending for three straight years, Harrington said. In her first year as superintendent, she said the priority is getting spending back in the black as financial concerns grow as the North Dakota Legislature considers bills that could mean even less funding.

"When you are in that situation you have to find how to correct it," Harrington said. "We do value the James Valley Career & Technology Center programs but we have to get the finances under control."

The James Valley Career & Technology Center is a consortium of Jamestown, Pingree-Buchanan and Montpellier school districts. The Jamestown Public School Board on Monday approved a request from Pingree-Buchanan Public Schools to withdraw from the consortium after the 2018-19 school year.

The per student fee total from the six Pingree-Buchanan students who attend the Career & Technology Center amounts to around $30,000, according to Robert Lech, superintendent of Jamestown Public School District. The withdrawal could also result in a loss of $170,000 in state funds, he said.

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The partnerships provide a valuable resource for smaller school districts, said John Lynch, director of the Career & Technology Center. After discussing options with Pingree-Buchanan over the past few months, he said it was clear these are difficult times.

"It is for each individual school district to decide and they have to decide what is best for them financially and what is best for the students," Lynch said.

Lynch said students from partnering schools have access to all education programs in agriculture, business, auto technology and collision, construction, machine tooling, adult farm, health careers, child care, family and consumer services. The programs are a way for students to learn about a trade to help decide whether to pursue it after graduating, he said.

"What I try to tell people coming to here is that the programs here translate into some of the highest-paying, fastest-growing jobs in North Dakota," Lynch said.

Most of the Career & Technology Center's 320 students are high school students taking elective classes in the programming areas, Lynch said. Others are students of the Adult Learning Center working toward a GED or in the English language learners program, he said.

The partnership includes Mike Soulis as the career counselor for the member schools. Pingree-Buchanan has one half-time counselor, and Soulis comes weekly to help students with college planning and other needs, Harrington said.

There are currently 57 high school students, 80 elementary students and 16 pre-kindergarten students at Pingree-Buchanan, she said.

The teachers received a substantial raise in the past three years, which has had an effect on the school district, she said. The salaries help a small school district be competitive for good teachers, she said.

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Other spending went into updating a community building to serve as two classrooms, she said.

The legislative session is still ongoing, but the school district stands to lose about 20 percent of funding through the Elementary and Secondary Education Act that helps pay for one teacher and the technology budget, she said. The carryover fund has kept the school district from carrying over debt but it is depleting, she said.

"There will be less money and we have to figure out how cope with that," she said.

At a special meeting Wednesday the Jamestown Public School Board started the process of cutting three instructor positions at James Valley Career and Technology Center. The decision was not related to Pingree-Buchanan, Lech said, but it was for lack of funding and uncertainty of future funds for two programs, which he did not identify Thursday but would consult with the school district's attorney on what could be said prior to the next public meeting.

Work has already started in identifying other school districts that want to partner, he said.

"We are in preliminary discussions as this is a sudden development," Lech said.

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