Vocational program ends abruptly for Long Beach/Pass High students

By Trang Pham-Bui - bio | email

LONG BEACH, MS (WLOX) - Hurricane Katrina is creating a huge financial headache for the Long Beach School District. The storm is being blamed for forcing the district to cut a long-running vocational program.

"It was a very difficult decision, one that the board struggled with, the administration struggled with," Long Beach School Superintendent Carrolyn Hamilton said.

The program started in 1982 as a partnership with the Pass Christian School District and Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College. Long Beach and Pass High students would take culinary and other vocational classes at the West Harrison County campus of MGCCC.

But Hamilton says with a budget crunch, the school district can no longer afford the fees, which would have totaled more than $348,000 this year.

"We just could not pay the $2,731 a student for them to go this year, not after the insurance increase," said Hamilton.

Hamilton says insurance costs have jumped from $180,000 a year before Katrina, to a whopping $800,000 today. The district also faces a property tax shortfall of more than $470,000.  And the district has lost about 500 students since the storm, which means a $2.5 million drop in MAEP funding.

"We have to live within our budget," said Hamilton.  "We've cut staff. We've cut 16 positions, a central office position, 14 teacher assistants. That's in addition to 11 certified positions last year that were cut. So we're doing what we have to do and try to maintain the quality of education that our children need."

Now that the Long Beach School District has pulled out of the program, the move has forced the Pass Christian School District and the Community College to cancel the program altogether.

"We still have the ability to stay in the consortium, but it just wasn't feasible without Long Beach. The Community College was not able to support us.  Financially, for them, it just wouldn't work out," said Pass Christian School Superintendent Dr. Sue Matheson.

Now both school districts are faced with finding other vocational courses for their students, just weeks before school starts.

"We're extremely disappointed.  We think they did a good job with our vocational education children," said Matheson. "We're especially disappointed at this late date because we're scrambling, trying to put a vocational program together for our kids.  So it's just difficult right at the last minute for us to do that."

Pass Christian school leaders are working on a plan to send their students to the vocational program at Hancock High.  They are also considering hiring more teachers to teach vocational classes at the high school.

And in Long Beach, vo-tech students could be placed in Family and Consumer Science or Computer Technology classes to help them graduate and get into college.

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