State's first career-tech center faces potential demise

Students in the Southern California Regional Occupational Center can take a variety of health professions classes, including e phlebotomy. Photo courtesy of SoCal ROC (click to enlarge).

Students in the Southern California Regional Occupational Center can take a variety of courses in health professions, including phlebotomy. Photo courtesy of SoCal ROC. (Click to enlarge)

The superintendent of the state’s oldest regional occupational program is warning that an unintended consequence of the governor’s Local Control Funding Formula could lead to its demise. An official from the Department of Finance says his department will look into the problem.

Christine Hoffman, superintendent of the Southern California Regional Occupational Center (SoCal ROC) in Torrance, is sending preliminary layoff notices to all 125 of her employees by the March 15 deadline for notifying those who could lose their jobs in the next fiscal year, starting July 1. She is also wondering if the center does close whether she’ll be able to repay long-term federal and state loans used to construct the three multi-storied buildings that house the center, which was used as a model to create the state’s 71 other regional occupational programs.

The 46-year-old regional center provides career training for 9,000 high school students and adults each year in areas that range from cosmetology to aerospace engineering. Although it is one of the state’s 72 regional occupational programs, the center’s unique funding mechanism makes it particularly vulnerable to changes that Brown is proposing.

Most of the regional programs are run by county offices of education, and five are managed by school districts. Under the proposed new formula, which gives districts more autonomy over spending decisions, those county offices and districts would still receive state funds for the regional programs, though they would no longer have to use the funds for that purpose. Twenty-six programs, including the Southern California Regional Occupational Center, are organized and funded through joint powers agreements among districts or between districts and county offices. Districts provide their share of the funding to support the programs based on the agreement.

What makes the Southern California Regional Occupational Center distinct is that in some respects it acts like a district. It controls its funds and even allocates some funding to districts for their own programs. Beside receiving money from six member districts, the largest of which is Torrance Unified, it gets a substantial amount of state funding – $4 million of its $6 million in one recent year – from students who are adults or from high schools in districts not in the agreement. However, the center falls under no category under the Local Control Funding Formula; as a result, Hoffman said it appears not to be eligible for the $4 million it should be entitled to.

The Local Control Funding Formula is “a simplistic approach to a very complicated problem,” Hoffman said. “Somebody’s got to understand up there (in Sacramento). They have got to hear the details.”

Sacramento does appear to be listening. The center has passionate supporters including Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi (D-Torrance), who used to sit on the center’s board. “Save SoCal ROC!” he said. “It is a unique situation and a truly successful program. I believe it’s an oversight of the governor’s office.” Muratsuchi said he plans to introduce legislation to protect funding for the program.

H.D. Palmer, spokesperson for the state Department of Finance, said he was not aware of the center’s plight until Tuesday, when it was brought to the department’s attention during hearings on the Local Control Funding Formula. The Southern Regional Occupational Center has “some unique circumstances,” he said. “We are going to meet with them.”

The center’s approach is unusual. It provides wraparound career services. Guidance counselors visit students at the beginning of their sophomore year to discuss what careers appeal to them. Students then have the opportunity to spend three years studying and practicing their craft with professionals in their chosen field who teach the classes. The center works with local businesses to provide externships for students.

A number of local doctors and dentists got their start in the center’s medical and dental assistant programs, Hoffman said. “Last year every one of our high school students who completed the dental program got a job as a dental assistant.”

The classrooms replicate real-world situations. For example, the fashion design classroom is a large and open room with cutting tables in the center and sewing machines around the perimeter. The auto mechanics shop includes a parts department. Student electricians work on real structures installing wiring and fuse boxes.

Other regional occupational centers also offer programs that individual districts could not afford. Those that are operated through joint power agreements are worried that some of their member districts may pull out of these agreements if the funding formula is approved.

Valerie Vuicich, president of the California Association of Regional Occupational Centers and Programs (CAROCP), said some of these joint powers agreements are between one big district and several smaller ones. Because overall there is not enough funding to support career tech, she says, the bigger district might pull out and focus on its own students, leaving the smaller districts with no alternatives.

Hoffman emphasizes the need for a regional approach to career technical education throughout the state because high schools do not have the capacity to offer such programs. “I’ve been a high school principal. I know the limits,” she said. “When a student indicates a passion for a career area, we provide a pathway.”

Filed under: Career Preparation, Community Partnerships, Local Control Funding Formula

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4 Responses to “State's first career-tech center faces potential demise”

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  1. el on Mar 7, 2013 at 8:10 am03/7/2013 8:10 am

    • 000

    There are several regional operations that face severe cuts, as I understand it. The two problems are that CTE funding of $215 per student ($1.19 per day) is less than some of the successful regional programs have been receiving, and that because of the way the money and responsibilities are shifted, and the way the hold harmless is proposed for implementation, there are effective cuts that are inobvious.

    I think CTE programs are important for all kids at all levels, to give them a taste of applying the academic techniques they’re learning as well as to grease career pathways to specific needs.


    • Susan Frey on Mar 7, 2013 at 10:55 am03/7/2013 10:55 am

      • 000

      Superintendent Christine Hoffman said her center would be $2.5 million short if the entire $215 per high school student were given to the center by the six participating districts. However, Department of Finance spokesperson H.D. Palmer said the intent of the $215 was for districts to use the funds for their own district career-tech programs.

      • el on Mar 7, 2013 at 11:06 am03/7/2013 11:06 am

        • 000

        If I understand correctly, what has happened here is that in the past we’ve had regional consortiums petitioning the state for CTE/ROP grants and building programs, many of them model, successful efforts. But, these efforts did not cover the state evenly.

        The new proposal is to just take the CTE money into a pot and then divide it by the number of 9-12th graders, and send that amount to each school district. The net effect is that districts who haven’t had much CTE will get some new money, but that the existing programs will not get enough to maintain what they built.

        Fundamentally, if you were to ask, “What does it cost to run a successful and appropriate CTE program,” a rational approach might be to observe some and figure out how much funding they have per student in their service area. But no one has done that… because it would mean more money is needed.

        I welcome the expansion of CTE to more students, but it does not give us a net benefit if we tear down the model programs and replace them all with mediocre half-funded efforts evenly sprinkled. I have a vested interest, since my area is served by a consortium that has done well, and will lose funding, but I am concerned that we’ll forget how to do CTE well and that we’ll look at the half-funded, half-efforts and say, “Golly, guess that whole CTE thing is a waste of money after all.” Policy-wise, even if it meant my region lost its CTE center, I’d rather we kept the model programs that are working well so we all know what we want to replicate.

        Disclaimer: this is my understanding after poking about asking various questions, but I am far from expert in this bit of policy and finance. If I am wrong in my assumptions, I welcome correction.

  2. Jason Sprenger on Mar 7, 2013 at 7:58 am03/7/2013 7:58 am

    • 000

    Career and technical education (CTE) has proven to help the economy, boost student achievement and deliver increased career and earning potential, so it’s concerning that this program may be cut. CTE also produces workers for the open jobs of today and curbs emerging skills gaps in the economy, and boosts business productivity and economic status as a result. Whether it’s sewing or shop class, or another one of the many varied CTE career paths, it all makes a significant difference to students, communities and the economy.

    The Industry Workforce Needs Council is a new organization of businesses working together to spotlight skills gaps and advocate/kick off CTE programs that work to curb the problem. For more information, or to join the effort, visit the IWNC website.

    Jason Sprenger, for the IWNC

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