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ATEC nursing program may be eliminated

Posted: March 17, 2011 3:19 p.m.
Updated: March 18, 2011 5:00 a.m.

Adult student Cindy Anderson doesn’t want the nursing program at the Applied Technology Education Campus (ATEC) to close its doors to new students during the next school year.

But that could be an option, as the Kershaw County Board of School Trustees continued discussions Tuesday evening about the possibility of not bringing in a new class for ATEC’s nursing program next year in exchange for offering an additional health science course for high school students.

Currently, 40 adult students and only five high school students are enrolled in the nursing program.

And with 160 high school students vying for a spot in the school’s health science program, a program that is only able to serve 80 students, members of the Career and Technology Education Planning Committee recommended the school board consider adding another health science course to serve the 80 students who were previously turned away in exchange for beginning a new nursing class next year.

Doing so has been estimated to save as much as $20,000 in personnel costs.

But speaking before the school board Tuesday, Anderson, a mother of five who expects to graduate from the nursing program in May, said the program gave her an opportunity to “accomplish a big step” in her life.

“All of my children are very successful now with their lives and now it’s my turn. ATEC gave me that turn; ATEC gave me hope. ATEC gave me my dream,” Anderson said. “Please don’t take away the ATEC nursing program for adults and high school students who want to live their dream.”

During the meeting, Kershaw County School District (KCSD) Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Dr. Agnes Slayman said the health science program would help students explore medical-related professions, including nursing, dental, physical therapy or veterinary fields.

But Trustee Jim Smith, a former administrator at ATEC, said the health science program ultimately “leads to nothing.”

“These are not courses that lead into employment. This is not an exploratory facility -- this is a job skills training program,” he said, adding that nursing students are able to graduate and immediately get employment. “I know what you’re trying to do and it makes sense, you need students … and you’ve done a good job. But those courses that you’re talking about lead to nothing. They just let everybody know what’s in the health field; they’re not going to go to work until they go to another school.”

ATEC Principal Chet Horton, agreeing that the nursing curriculum is a strong program, also said offering the health science course would give students an opportunity to decide if they do or do not like that field – a move that could ultimately “save them time and money on the post-secondary end.”

But the real issue at hand, said KCSD Superintendent Dr. Frank Morgan, is that the district is left having to deal with irresponsible school funding decisions that have been made at the state level for years.

“This is another example of what happens when you have to cut 17 percent from a $72 million budget. We’re over here making choices of whether we should offer high school kids health sciences or post-graduate students nursing,” he said. “This exactly what the General Assembly wants -- they want us here arguing about it, they want us sitting going back and forth about it because it relieves them of their responsibilities for irresponsible decisions.”

Slayman, while acknowledging the ATEC’s nursing program is a great program, said this decision is one that other school districts have been grappling with as well.

“They’re having to make choices that we’re sitting here facing tonight, of are we going to serve our adults? Or are we going to serve our kids?” she said. “It’s a terrible, terrible choice to have to make, but when funds are limited you have to make some bad decisions.”

With an estimated cost of $150,000 to keep the nursing program next year, while still adding the health science program, Trustee Dr. Don Copley said he’d like to explore other funding sources in the community before making a decision.

“I’m not willing to give up on it until there’s a little bit more creativity with trying to find funding,” Copley said, suggesting they can try to go to county council, health care providers and the hospital for help. “It would be nice to have left no stone unturned before we give up on a program that we think is a good program, not necessarily for K-12 education, but just for the people of Kershaw County.”

After a lengthy discussion, Morgan said he will convene a meeting with Smith, “folks from the nursing program” and staff at ATEC to explore funding sources.

“We will explore those in the next two weeks and bring it to the board,” he said, adding they will also have to find out the cost of retrofitting a space in ATEC so an additional laboratory could be added that would accommodate both programs. “I think we can at least determine in two weeks whether or not there is adequate possibility of funding… Again, it comes back to what I said before, we have to make decisions of whether we’re going to eat or pay the rent.”

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