A new report by Albemarle County Public Schools staff has prompted the School Board and its incoming superintendent to openly question Albemarle and Charlottesville’s joint management of the Charlottesville Albemarle Technical Education Center.
“The CATEC board has to change,” Deputy Superintendent Matt Haas said at the county School Board’s meeting last week. “Having joint governance is in many ways preempting change at CATEC.”
The CATEC Center Board is comprised of members of the Albemarle and Charlottesville school boards, with three representing each division.
“Every time a decision has to be made, [Albemarle and Charlottesville representatives] both go back to their entities and ask, ‘Can we do it?’ If either one says no, then it’s not happening,” Haas said.
CATEC enrolled 202 students from Albemarle and 69 students from Charlottesville during the 2017-18 school year. Albemarle’s financial contribution to CATEC for fiscal year 2018 was about $1.69 million, while Charlottesville’s was $570,535.
Jamie Gellner, the ACPS division program evaluator, conducted the CATEC evaluation and shared key findings with the School Board on Thursday.
The evaluation consisted of analyzing CATEC’s budget and enrollment data, gathering information from the Virginia Department of Education about the current state of career and technical education, conducting a survey of Albemarle students and interviewing current and former leaders of CATEC.
The evaluation concluded that, despite recent changes to its programming, CATEC still struggles to attract students and is becoming less cost-effective to operate.
“What CATEC is providing may not be what Albemarle students want,” Gellner said.
In March 2014, CATEC’s board adopted a new strategic plan in an attempt to modernize programming and align the technical school more closely with Piedmont Virginia Community College. The plan called for CATEC to be reorganized into four academies: Health and Medical Sciences, Information Technology and Engineering Technology, Skilled Trades and Recreation, and Leisure and Retail Management.
CATEC opened the Healthcare & Medical Services Academy and the Information & Engineering Technology Academy in 2015. CATEC Director Daphne Keiser said there are currently no plans to build out the two remaining academies.
CATEC has budgeted a total of $464,529 for strategic plan implementation since FY16.
Enrollment at CATEC increased from a low of 221 students in 2015-16 to 268 students the following school year. However, enrollment growth was flat in 2017-18. Enrollment in the health care and IT academies was slightly above half-capacity during the last school year.
“In essence, CATEC is half-enrolled,” Haas said. “We would not tolerate Albemarle High School being able to hold 1,700 students and having 850 show up every day.”
Albemarle School Board member Stephen Koleszar, also a member of the CATEC board, suggested that Albemarle could assume full governance of the technical school while still allowing Charlottesville students to attend.
“All the programs would be maintained, but we would get away from this governance bottleneck that is holding CATEC back,” Koleszar said. “The CATEC board doesn’t meet often, and it is basically rubber-stamping the [CATEC] director. That’s the problem of coordinating the two school divisions.”
Albemarle School Board Chairwoman Kate Acuff said it was not Albemarle’s responsibility to strengthen its “40-year marriage” with Charlottesville in order to improve CATEC.
“Our responsibility is making career and technical education work for Albemarle County students,” Acuff said.
The 1969 agreement between Albemarle and Charlottesville that led to the creation of CATEC gives either party the ability to dissolve the relationship.
Albemarle or Charlottesville can terminate the CATEC relationship by giving written notice of its intent and a desired date of withdrawal. The withdrawal date can be no sooner than 12 months after notice is given, and it must coincide with the end of a fiscal year.
The withdrawing party must offer to either sell its undivided interest in CATEC at a specified price or purchase the other party’s interest at the same price. The other party must accept one of those offers.
An appraisal conducted by Pape and Company in March 2015 values CATEC’s 13-acre campus and the building at $6.7 million.
Haas, who will replace Pam Moran as superintendent on July 1, said in an email that the county school division would not rule out any changes that would improve the quality of programming at CATEC and the participation of students in those programs.
However, Haas said Albemarle and Charlottesville would have to agree that a change in the governance of CATEC was the right move for all their students.
“While we welcome discussions with our city counterparts at any time, the joint benefits have to be clearly defined and welcomed by both parties,” Haas said.
Juandiego Wade, chairman of the Charlottesville School Board and the CATEC board, said he would wait for both boards to review the Albemarle County program evaluation before sharing his opinions.
“We want it to be a win-win situation for everyone,” Wade said.
However, two other city School Board members said they strongly supported the continuation of the CATEC partnership.
“If [Albemarle and Charlottesville] are looking to train students in the community to get apprenticeships and internships and good jobs, it’s all the same community,” said Sherry Kraft. “It doesn’t make sense that we wouldn’t be partners in this endeavor.”
“We have a long history of working together on this, and we have a long history of partnerships with businesses. That still has value,” said Jennifer McKeever.
The Charlottesville School Board will meet Tuesday to consider a contract for student laptops and updates to division policies. Its next regular meeting is scheduled for Aug. 2.
The Albemarle County School Board is scheduled to meet July 12. The next CATEC board meeting is scheduled for Aug. 14.
View the Albemarle County Public Schools evaluation of CATEC here.