School board, supervisors discuss dual enrollment class charges

Unless something changes at the state level, Pulaski County School Board is facing the likelihood of having to come up with around $175,000 next school year to pay for PCHS students’ dual enrollment classes.

Dual enrollment was one of several topics discussed last week during a joint meeting of the school board and Pulaski County Board of Supervisors.

Through the dual enrollment program, Pulaski County High School students can choose from 21 class offerings and earn college credit for each class they successfully complete.

In the past, those classes were free to students and local officials want to keep it that way.

School Superintendent Dr. Kevin Siers told both boards last week that while “nothing is a done deal,” the latest proposal of charging for the classes has been in place for several months now and “doesn’t seem to be going anywhere,” despite ongoing efforts by lobbyists to get it changed.

Siers explained the proposal is for school divisions – beginning in the 2019-20 school year – to pay $50 per credit hour for dual enrollment classes.

Siers said Pulaski County Schools actually employ the teachers in the dual enrollment classes, even though they go through New River Community College to be credentialed as dual enrollment teachers.

Last school year, Siers reported, 3,476 credits were issued to students completing dual enrollment classes at PCHS and the Governor’s School.  He said that, if Pulaski County Schools had to pay for those credits, the cost would have been $173,800.

“The lobbying effort has been going on for a while, and I don’t really anticipate the charge going below $50,” Siers said.

He explained that, for some school divisions, paying $50 per credit hour isn’t that big of a change.  “They’ve been paying a decent amount anyhow,” Siers said.

Not so for Pulaski County, however.

“New River Community College has been so great to work with, we don’t pay anything for our kids in dual enrollment. We’ve been in a much better position than most school divisions in the state,” Siers said.

“Wytheville Community College does like New River, but most colleges charge something,” Siers added. “We just are in an area where there’s a strong partnership between the local school division and the community colleges.”

School Board Vice Chairman Mike Barbour said the school system had worked for years to increase the number of dual enrollment classes at PCHS.

“The classes have effectively saved students and their parents millions of dollars. I sure would hope we would not address this by cutting back the availability of these classes or make them cost prohibitive for students and their parents at the high school level,” Barbour stated.

Siers agreed.

“I don’t believe we should try to charge students and their parents for these classes,” he said.

Cloyd District Supervisor Joe Guthrie asked if the high school is “where you want to be with the number and variety of dual enrollment classes, or do you have more in the pipeline?”

Siers responded that each year school officials evaluate the CTE program at the high school and try to keep their finger on the pulse of the job market and upgrade programs.

“I think there is potential to increase the courses that offer dual enrollment credit,” Siers said. “For example, this year we started the pharmacy tech program – not for dual enrollment credit, but New River does offer those classes. There may be potential down the line to merge into what they do.”

Supervisors Chairman Andy McCready asked Siers if parents were asked to pay some for dual enrollment classes, would the program lose students.

“Yes,” Siers responded. “I believe there are students whose parents would discourage them from applying if we asked as little as $5 per credit hour.”

“Then I don’t think we’re interested in doing that,” McCready said.

Guthrie added that there are a lot of the dual enrollment classes that are three credit-hour classes. 

“At $50 each that’s $150, and if a student has two or three classes a semester, it could get expensive,” he said.

McCready said the dual enrollment issue is an important one to the board of supervisors.

“We said at the end of budget work in the last fiscal year that we wanted to go back and re-visit the ACCE and AIME programs and the funding for them. Due to forces beyond the control of the school board or board of supervisors – in order to keep the dual enrollment program going – we’re going to have to come up with $173,800, and that has a budget consequence,” McCready said.

“That then would affect our ability to fund the ACCE program and this is why we wanted to talk about it. I know New River wants to be as helpful as they can to move this program along, we just have to figure out how to do it within our budget framework.

“The reason the AIME program has been talked about is our shortage of folks who have job specific technical skills our employers are so desperately needing. If we don’t have the employee base we need or we can’t train them, it affects our ability to attract new industries – whether it be manufacturing, service centers – anything.  It affects our ability to employ our citizens,” McCready said.