Photo by George Lauby
Photo by George Lauby
Twelve people, business owners as well as students, urged the North Platte school board Tuesday to hire another welding instructor at the high school.
Veteran welding instructor Jason Reed is leaving North Platte to take a similar job in Lexington. Superintendent Marty Bassett said he didn't intend to replace Reed. Instead, other industrial arts teachers would pick up the slack.
Bassett said four students who want to take electronics will not be able to take the course, because it won't be offered.
That could mean the loss of Welding III, a specialized course that trains students in the finer points of welding, including design techniques as well as leadership and business management.
“Advanced welding is more than a skill, it’s an art,” said Bret Ludemann, the owner of Mid Nebraska Welding in North Platte. “If the decision is made not to fill the position, I am deeply disappointed. We need to have someone who has a passion for the art and imparts that to the students.”
Ludemann said there is a lot of demand for industrial workers of all kinds.
Former school board member Rod Dye of Cohagen Transfer said his son graduated from North Platte High’s welding program and is now a successful, well-paid welder.
“For 40 years, North Platte has had a high quality welding program,” Dye said, thanking teachers Herschel Beveridge and Reed.
“Please take another look at this,” he said, to a round of applause.
Dillion Schultz, a welding student, said he is heading to Southeast Community College in Lincoln to study advanced welding.
“We have the best welding program in Nebraska,Schultz said. "You have to be good to be in Welding III. Mr. Reed won’t tolerate less.”
Jerome Vierya, a 2002 graduate, recently opened a welding shop in North Platte. He said Beveridge was a teacher who cared, and pushed students to be their best. Advanced students work at local welding shops, helping businesses and earning money. He said jobs in North Platte keep youth in the community.
Student Blake Tucker said the class produces such items as cattle panels that are used in the area. And he said advanced welding students mentor younger students in lower level classes.
“This program invests in the community,” he said. “I’ve seen the programs at Mid-Plains, Hastings and Metro, and I wouldn’t take their shops over ours.”
Dave Burkholder, the owner of an auto repair shop, said business owners need well-trained employees, and industrial arts students from North Platte High are well trained. He said the quality high school program gives ambitious students the know-how to succeed.
Student Terrance Nelson said the Nebraska champion in welding classification is from North Platte, and two North Platte students recently finished in the top three out of 150 competitors at the Skills USA national competition.
Student Alicia Stout said she loves welding III.
“You can know how to use the tools, but he taught me everything I need to know. I want to get a degree so I can have my own shop someday,” she said.
Brian Lusk of Lusk Heating and Air Conditioning wishes North Platte had as good a program in heating, ventilation and air conditioning as in welding.
“I understand financial responsibility, but we are talking about future business owners,” Lusk said.
Melanie Lehmkuhler stressed the importance of mentorship by advanced students, who help younger students make efficient use of the 20 welding stalls at the high school, even when classes are larger. Theh help the whole program, she said.
Rancher John Tucker said “as a society, and as a parent, the best thing we can do is surround young people with good people.”
John Hales brought a letter from the agri-business committee of the North Platte Chamber of Commerce. The letter said turning over the program to a part-time instructor is not the answer. Nationally, welding jobs are growing at a rate of 6-8 percent a year.
Hales said Union Pacific’s Bailey Yard is in need of welders, and so is Toyer Welding in North Platte, which has been advertising for a welder for three weeks.
“Everyone needs welders,” said J.D. Troyer. “They are in high demand for pipelines and ethanol plants.”
Previously in the meeting, board members grilled Bassett about staffing for next year, including high school industrial arts, special education and at Hall Elementary.
Bassett said he does not plan to replace two special education teachers who resigned. He said a “sped” teacher at Adams will be assigned to the middle school and a sped teacher at Madison will head to the high school to replace the two that resigned.
Bassett also said Hall Elementary would not offer kindergarten next year, since only four students signed up.
The board did not vote on the issue. President Kathy Phares encouraged anyone with concerns to talk to a school board member.
In other business, the board approved new teacher contracts for Kathyrn Deitz, Courtney Michael, Joy Petersen, Laura Peterson, Kelly Spurling, Robyn Younghans, Amanda Zakrzewski-Aten, Kathy Dragoo-Wiede, Jesse Harts, Kyle Drake. Kristy Volentine, Philip Mackie and Joshua Oberg.
The board also agreed to offer Trane consultants a contract to oversee installation of new heating, ventilation, air conditioning, doors and windows, lighting and ceilings at three elementary schools -- Buffalo, Cody and Washington.
The $4.6 million project could start this summer and would end before school starts in August 2016. However, first the board must approve the financing – a special tax levy of 2-3 cents.
Boilers are problematic at Buffalo and Washington schools, and part of Cody is more than 100 years old, business manager Stuart Simpson said.
Hewgley and Associates bid $4.86 for the project.
Simpson said he would have definite information about the financing at the next board meeting.
Simpson said bonds totaling nearly $14 million should be refinanced to take advantage of lower interest rates, and save the district about $100,000 a year. He said he would have more information next month.
The board agreed to hire Sodexo to manage food service for schools for the 2014-15 school year. Sodexo edged out Taher, a well-established company headquartered in Minnesota, for the contract, Simpson said.