Arlington school officials are looking for a way to improve and get more money for their vocational education programs.
Last week, the School Board directed Arlington School Superintendent Arthur W. Gosling to appoint a citizen task force to study the possibility of creating a county vocational education foundation to serve as a nonprofit, tax-exempt private corporation that would sponsor and promote stepped-up career training programs.
Wade Morrison, a vocational education supervisor for the school system who brought the idea to the board, said the creation of such a foundation could have great financial advantages. "You've got to be training people for the job market as it exists," he said. "That's getting to be an expensive proposition."
Morrison said that unlike the School Board, which must return unspent funds to the county at the end of each fiscal year, a private foundation could accept donations and engage in business and then invest capital in career training programs and equipment.
Morrison said technical drawing, currently offered in the county's high schools, is an example of the type of vocational course that is getting prohibitively expensive to teach through school funding alone.
In technical drawing, he said, "computer-assisted drafting is the only way to go these days, and to equip all those labs is very expensive."
While Morrison said about 4,000 public school students take career training courses, only about 600 of them take vocational courses at the Arlington Career Center as part of the daily curriculum. He said about 15,000 county adults are involved in vocational education programs. Although the majority of them take such general adult education single courses as wok cooking or American antique furniture, about 500 low-income adults attend employment training classes 30 hours a week at the Career Center.
That kind of program, which is federally funded, is in danger of surviving without a better funding method, Morrison said. "Those federally funded programs are so subject to fluctuation," he said. " A foundation would add a lot of stability."
The Fairfax County school system established a vocational education foundation in 1972. Joseph Daly, who has directed its programs for the last seven years, said the foundation sponsors career training projects for about 400 public high school students.
He said the foundation currently runs a housing construction project in McLean, an automobile dealership at Tysons Corner and a gift store at Springfield Mall.
In each case, foundation money is used to buy into the operation, students work there full time to receive job training, and money generated by the operation is put back into the corporation.
The oldest project is the construction program, Daly said. The foundation has invested in land in McLean in order for county high school students to build houses and sell them on the market.
Morrison said he doubts that a house-building project would work in Arlington.
But a county vocational education foundation could sponsor programs, in which vocational students studying construction could renovate or remodel existing buildings, he said. Morrison estimated about 50 high school students are taking courses in one of the construction trades at the Career Center.
Morrison said he expects the task force recommendation to be presented to the School Board by early fall. If the group gives the plan the go-ahead, he said a foundation could be established next year.