New Castle News

June 7, 2013

Vo-tech budget still in limbo

Debbie Wachter
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — Now that the practical nursing program is ending, the vo-tech’s director hopes local districts will pass the school’s budget.

“I’m expecting them to pass our budget,” Dr. Andrew Tommelleo said Wednesday night of the Lawrence County Career and Technical Center’s 2013-14 spending plan. “I would be greatly disappointed if they didn’t.”

Two of the eight districts in the county have approved the budget — Neshannock and Laurel. Two others — Shenango and Union — have voted it down. The remaining four — Wilmington, Mohawk, Ellwood City and New Castle — will vote at their June meetings.

If the budget does not pass, the vo-tech school will have to close after June 30. Six of the eight districts must approve the spending plan for it to take effect.

At a special meeting Wednesday, the school’s joint operating committee voted 12-0 to discontinue affiliation with the adult practical nursing program in February.

That decision was prompted after it came to public light in November that the program owes the center more than a half-million dollars in operating expenses and that debt is growing.

The center has been using member school districts’ enrollment money not only to operate the vocational-technical school but prop up the nursing program.

As a result, the vo-tech school owes six of the districts a total of $450,573 in enrollment reimbursements for the 2010-11 school year.

Tommelleo and the center’s joint operating committee members are meeting Friday with representatives of the state auditor general’s office and hope to learn how much is owed to school districts for the 2011-12 school year. Those funds have been tangled up with the nursing program expenses in the budget.

Tommelleo said he expects the center will pay back the districts as funds become available.

He explained he is looking for additional funding, noting the center is starting an adult welding program June 10 as one way to generate new revenue.

At Wednesday’s meeting, the board also cut a full-time secretary in practical nursing, as of June 30.

The decision to close the program came after several of its students pleaded to keep it open.

Tommelleo and board member Robert Curry of New Wilmington both said the school is looking at the possibility of another group running the program.

“We have talked to other schools ... to see if they are interested in taking it over,” Tommelleo said. If that should happen, he envisions the program staying at the school and its new managers paying rent to the vo-tech.

Leroy Cortez, one of the Ellwood City school board’s representatives on the operating committee, blamed Gov. Tom Corbett’s education cuts as a reason for financial woes in public education.

“What we’re seeing in Harrisburg is the actual strangulation of public education.”

State subsidies fund more than half of public education budgets, Cortez said, noting those cuts have prompted Ellwood City and New Wilmington to close schools.

“Just because we’re voting to close (the nursing program) doesn’t mean that’s the end of it,” he said. “We are considering all options.”

He assured the nursing students, “You will graduate and you will be the best nurses out there.”

Curry commented, “Education isn’t free. We’re here to do the most good for the most people. Sometimes that’s not an easy job.”

(Email: dwachter@ncnewsonline.com)