Technology tiff

The Dorchester County Career and Technology School curriculum includes culinary courses, such as this one, in which instructor Cathy Flood (right) was working Wednesday with students Joshua Johnson (left), Nichole Mathus and Nychelle Gavin.

SUMMERVILLE — More than $40 million of a $180 million bond referendum sought by Dorchester District 2 schools is earmarked to build Career and Technology Education wings at each of the district’s three high schools.

District officials tout the centers as needed to train today’s students for local trade jobs in fields from culinary arts to aerospace engineering, and say that student interest overflows current programs.

“This is working all over the country,” said Joe Pye, district superintendent. “We know, you build it and they will come.”

But Dorchester County Career and Technology Center officials say they provide courses in some of the fields — including four courses taught at Fort Dorchester High School — and classes are only half-full.

“I’d like to know where the overflow is coming from,” said career center Director James Villeponteaux.

This dispute is all about a few million dollars in local and federal funding, a budding partnership between District 2 and Trident Technical College, simmering discontent with the career center’s performance, and Boeing.

Dorchester District 2 is asking voters Nov. 6 to approve $179.9 million to fund three new elementary schools, a new middle school of the arts and renovate 10 others. It would mean an $85 annual increase in taxes on a $100,000 house.

The career center now gets $4.2 million from Dorchester County to operate. The district and the center get federal vocational training grants that total a few million more.

About 85 percent of the career center’s 400 to 500 students come from the district. If those students are diverted, the center might well close. It shut down a Summerville campus two years ago due to lack of enrollment.

Meanwhile, Trident Tech is offering dual credit courses in career and technology education to district students, and Dorchester County has committed $4.5 million to help the college expand its nursing program. High school career centers could augment that.

The Boeing Co. has contributed more than $400,000 to train and outfit math and science teachers at Stall High School in Charleston County to teach students pre-aeronautical courses, helping train potential workers for its North Charleston plant complex. District 2 and the career center want a similar partnership.

The career center runs most courses from the mid-county Dorchester community at least 20 minutes from the nearest district high school.

“What we hear from our students is they don’t want to travel (for the career training),” Pye said. “They want to stay on campus.”

Pye said the district would concentrate on the technical careers, not trades like masonry now offered at the career center.

“We’re not trying to duplicate what they’re doing. All we’re doing is expanding the opportunities,” he said. “If their classes are not filling, I think you need to take that to them.”

The career center now offers technical courses such as computer assisted drafting and health science, and could expand to offer fields such as aerospace engineering, Villeponteaux said.

Pye said the district school board hears regularly from parents who have concerns about the career center in matters such as scheduling. The center and district schedule course blocks differently.

“We have no issues with (the career center). We have issues that we’re not preparing our children for the careers they’re telling us they need,” Pye said.