CTE backers press case for regional hub

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If Mineola ISD is to develop a $4 million to $5 million regional hub for Career and Technical Education (CTE), the time to do so is now, say proponents of such a project.

The point of a CTE hub is to train young people to meet the needs of the workplace while lifting wages and promoting the overall economic wellbeing of this region of Texas. The Mineola Foundation, a stalwart supporter of CTE, believes skills training can play a vital role toward that end.

Already, the school district has secured a $258,000 Texas Workforce Commission grant for welding equipment and a pledge of $500,000 from the Mineola Economic Development Corp. It intends to seek additional grant funding from the federal government and is pursuing a $636,000 Texas Education Agency grant for HVAC education and training. School districts in Grand Saline, Lindale, Yantis and Alba-Golden have signaled interest in sending students to a regional CTE hub, and two potential sites have been identified. Morton Salt and Sanderson Farms from the private sector are on board, as is Tyler Junior College, which would work in tandem with the MISD to staff the center, according to the project’s backers.

According to Mark Parkerson, MISD’s director of Career and Technical Education, 19 percent of Mineola students live below the federal poverty line, and 61 percent are on a free or reduced-priced meal plan, an indicator of low to modest household income. About 35 percent of MISD students come from single-parent homes, according to Parkerson. Household income in Mineola is about $28,000 per year less than the state average, according to Census Bureau data.

“If you fast forward 10 years, a lot of these things go away” with an abundance of higher-paying jobs, he believes.

Mineola Foundation President Warren Brown explained that the foundation, which has been around since 1952, underwent a drastic transformation a few years ago by making CTE its central focus.

J.L. Meek, the Foundation’s committee chairman for CTE, describe the new mindset as “an enormous shift, like 180 degrees.”

Previously, the Mineola Foundation had used its connections and assets to lure businesses to Mineola, said Brown. “But we were competing against the big bank rolls of the Tylers and larger cities. If they wanted something, they could chew us up and spit us out. Plus they had larger labor pool, etcetera.”

So the Mineola Foundation changed its focus, its direction, its charter. Its mission became one of support for CTE. A skilled labor pool is something that prospective companies will respond to, according to Brown.

Meek believes the Mineola Foundation can be “the formative agency” in creating a CTE hub by bringing its resources to bear. Those resources include political connections as well as industry, financial and business ties. The Foundation has put its money where its mouth is by providing MISD’s CTE program funds totaling $50,000.

The Mineola Foundation has several allies in seeking a regional CTE hub, including the Mineola Economic Development Corp. (MEDC) and the City of Mineola.

The MEDC and city believe that by educating Mineola’s youth – whether preparing them for college or through CTE – those young people will be propelled into productive and skilled jobs, said Mercy Rushing, Mineola’s city manager and executive director of the MEDC. She described those efforts as a “win-win for our community.  Our state is growing, and the need is growing for a skilled workforce to be able to entice new companies to Texas and to our region.”

MEDC’s pledge of up to $500,000 is intended to help leverage a state grant for a regional CTE hub. Rushing foresees a partnership among MEDC, MISD, Tyler Junior College and the Mineola Foundation “working together to elevate and expand educational opportunities for our young people and give them larger and more varied choices they did not have before.”

According to Parkerson, companies are looking for cities that are teamed with a regional CTE hub that will produce trained employees.

“So they’re saying if you don’t have that regional hub we’re not coming. We’re going to find somebody that does have a regional hub,” Parkerson said.

Career and Technical Education seeks to provide trained employees for high-need, high-wage industries. MISD’s CTE program offers numerous programs in areas such as welding, automobile technology, animal science, health science, education and more. CTE students can leave high school with an industry certification. Or students can elect to attend a trade school, a two-year college or go straight into the job market, where they’ll make considerably more than minimum wage.

Additionally, a CTE hub would offer adult education, meaning people who have left public school long ago could still receive career training.

If all the grants and contributions eventually are realized, MISD still would need approximately $1.5 million for construction and land acquisition, according to Parkerson. After being built, a 30,000-square-foot center would largely fund itself though government reimbursements for students taking classes at the center. Also, the state of Texas provides additional financial resources to school districts that amass debt, up to $250 per year per student.

Parkerson said Mineola is uniquely positioned to capitalize on the new statewide emphasis on CTE. The district, he noted, has been working to beef up its CTE program and has roughly a two-year head start on many other Texas school districts. Parkerson said he’d like to see ground broken on a CTE regional hub before the end of the next school year. The window of opportunity will stay open only so long, he cautioned.

“I’ve been education long enough to know that the pendulum swings back and forth and we are optimum right now,” he said.

Added Brown: “I told the school board that if they don’t seize the opportunity, it will go away.”

Meek noted that the Mineola Foundation is hardly alone in wanting to see a CTE hub established here. “I am in awe of the support this effort is getting from TJC and the Texas Workforce Commission. They are really behind this, and they’re putting resources with their mouth is,” he said.

The entire push for a CTE hub is really about bringing higher wages and more opportunity for the people of Mineola and nearby communities, proponents say.

Said Brown: “It’ll lift the whole community; and that’s what we’re after.”

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