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Murray, Calloway County agreement yields new vocational school
Kentucky School Advocate
February 2017
By Matt McCarty
Staff writer 
Embedded Image for:  (201712415350340_image.jpg) A first-of-its-kind partnership between two western Kentucky school districts has culminated with the opening of a state-of-the-art vocational school.

The new Area Technology Center, co-owned by the Murray Independent and Calloway County school districts, opened to students last October after six years of planning.

“Since we’ve got this project going, we couldn’t have had more cooperation from both sides. We got into the excitement of doing it and being at complete peace with each school system and it’s really been one of the best things to happen to the community,” Murray school board member Donnie Winchester said.
Murray Independent Superintendent Bob Rogers (third from left) talks about the automotive technology lab with Murray school board member Donnie Winchester, far left, and Calloway County school board members Steve Grogan and Leeann Myers.
The new facility, which is 1.1 miles from both high schools, replaces the old vocational school next to Murray High School.

“I think this country is on the precipice of rebuilding its infrastructure and I think there’s never been a time where vocational trades are more needed,” said Tres Settle, superintendent of Calloway County Schools. “That’s what excites me about this and about the community coming together because, even in Murray, we’re seeing expansion in industry, expansion with our roadways. We need these blue-collar jobs.”

Nonresident disagreement
Ironically, it was a disagreement that led the two districts to cooperate on the tech center project. The school boards were in a stalemate over the issue of nonresident student contracts in 2010.

“We had this idea that if we could reach a nonresident agreement and use some of the funds on the students that would have been left in Frankfort if we didn’t have an agreement and build a new technology center, then perhaps we could reach an agreement,” said Bob Rogers, Murray Independent superintendent.

The districts, led by Rogers and then-Calloway County superintendent Steve Hoskins, had several meetings and agreed to a 25-year student exchange contract.
Embedded Image for:  (201712415610260_image.jpg) The contract provides that either district may enroll and receive state funding on up to 500 students residing in the other district, but part of the funding received by the district enrolling the highest number of students residing in the other district goes into a fund to pay for the technology center.

“If everybody’s there to do what’s best for the students and the community, then you just work through all the issues. Put other things aside and try to do what’s best for the kids and give them an opportunity,” Rogers said.
Dan Hicks (left), principal of the vocational school,
and Tres Settle, Calloway County superintendent,
look at an award won by the ATC’s automotive program. 

For the first five years of the contract, the money was put in escrow while plans were being made for the $7 million project and is now being used to pay off the 20-year bond issue on the building.

“There’s a formula that’s part of the contract that determines how much money goes into this fund and that money pays off the bonds, buys the insurance, just operates the facility,” Rogers said.

The relationship between the two districts is now “probably at one of the highest points,” said Calloway County board member Leeann Myers.

“And the only thing I would foresee as a negative is hopefully our enrollment continues to grow, that’d be the only thing that could hurt us,” Myers said. “Otherwise, I don’t see anything in the future that could slow us down. I think we’re going to grow and do bigger and better things for the community.”

Blazing a trail
The unique partnership took some time to work through the details.

“KDE has never done anything like this before where you have a facility owned by two districts and they were hesitant to give an answer on anything,” Rogers said. “KDE was not an obstacle on purpose. They wanted very, very passionately for us to have an agreement. … They said from day one we’ll make this work.”

Amy Peabody, assistant general counsel for the Kentucky Department of Education, said state law gives separate government entities the ability to work together on projects like the joint vocational school. This is the first instance of a partnership between two public school systems.

“It creates a nice framework for you to go by, how to do this and what the law is that allows you to do this,” Peabody said.

She said she hopes it will be easier now if other districts want to do something similar.

“There’s kind of a template now for how to do it. There are people to contact to say we’re interested in this, can you walk me through what you went through with this,” Peabody said.

Before construction began, the site had to be annexed into the city to get city utilities and an access road built.

The Murray Independent school board and the Calloway County school board each has to approve any expenditures for the tech school. The superintendents meet to discuss items before taking them to their boards.

“If there’s anything (the two superintendents) think would be a problem, it goes to the finance corporation because it’s got two members from each board,” Rogers said.

“It’s always been 100 percent agreement with both boards,” Myers said. “That’s unusual, too, because you’re bringing together two boards, 10 people that haven’t always agreed. So it’s been a win-win.”

Settle, who is in second year as Calloway superintendent, said he initially had some reservations about the project when he was hired because he hadn’t been in a situation where he was working with a neighboring district.

“I wasn’t sure how that would break out, but I quickly found that both boards were able to be amicable by all rights and all situations that I was vested in and present in, so that was a great comfort to me coming in as a new superintendent.

“The idea of change, of sharing resources, that’s not something that’s commonplace in the state of Kentucky but it’s something I think we’re going to have to continue to look toward,” he said. “So two boards coming together is just different ideology that will have to be accepted and embraced before something like this can happen.”

Settle and Rogers both said it sets a good example for students in the two school systems.

“I think it demonstrates compromise and demonstrates sharing of resources,” Settle said. “I think that’s invaluable for the student who’s going to have to come into a workplace where they’ve got to be a team player and work with teams and I just think it will make them a more well-rounded student, a more well-rounded individual, a more employable student.”

“I think it shows the adults can work together,” Rogers said. “We’re still competitive in academics and sports and everything else, but it doesn’t affect the relationship. You still want to do the best you can.”
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