NPCC: Tax hike would fund training

By Wayne Bryan Published November 11, 2012 at 12:00 a.m.
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Wayne Bryan / Tri-Lakes Edition

From the left, Jill Johnson, NPCC community relations director, and Sally Carder, NPCC president, look over a proposal for school improvements that would be paid for by a possible vote for a 1.2-mill increase in property taxes in Garland County.

— After the end of a campaign dominated with talk of taxes and jobs, the board of trustees of National Parks Community College is now considering asking Garland County voters for more funding to enhance and expand the school’s job-training programs.

In preparation for the board’s vote on Nov. 28, NPCC President Sally Carder has been speaking to the community, unveiling the plan and asking for support.

“We have been meeting with groups, saying, ‘Here is what we want to do,’ and we are running the numbers,” Carder said. “The board has not yet decided to call an election, so I am asking, ‘Is the plan a good one, and if it is, will you support it?’”

Carder has made presentations on the plan to the Hot Springs Metro Partnership and the Greater Hot Springs Chamber of Commerce, as well as business groups and civic organizations.

“Members of the metro partnership told me they would be very supportive of it because it helps build a capable workforce, and that can attract new industry and create jobs,” said the president of the two-year college.

Carder said the proposal going to the board of trustees would ask voters to return to the 2 mills voters approved to create the college in 1973 when it had only 500 students. NPCC, with 3,600 students, now operates on eight-tenths of a mill (0.8) on Garland County property taxes.

“Then with another half mill, less than a dollar a week for the owners of a $100,000 home, we can grow to meet the needs of the community,” she said.

Carder outlined the four initiatives in the NPCC plan:

• An enlarged High School Technology Center;

• An enhanced Workforce Training Center;

• Expansion of the College Technical Training programs offered at the college; and

• A downtown educational facility that would offer courses from both NPCC and Henderson State University.

The high school technology training serves all the high schools in Garland County, but Carder said the secondary-education division is only reaching 22 percent of the students eligible for the training.

“There were 2,272 students eligible this year, but we could only take 495 students,” she said.

Jill Johnson, NPCC community relations director and head of the High School Technology Center, said the program is out of space.

“We need additional classrooms and labs,” she said. “With expanded facilities, we can take in 1,000 students in the morning program and 1,000 more in the evening.”

The high school tech program offers classes in graphic design, automotive repair, machine tools and cabinet making, and training for jobs in health care.

“With more funds, we could also expand the programs, adding a pre-engineering program that could provide so many opportunities for young people,” Johnson said.

“Students have expressed interest in training for radio and television announcing,” Carder added. “The local stations have said they are eager to take part.”

The NPCC program for the county’s high schools could also allow the schools to offer ROTC with the training conducted at the community college.

“When we were meeting with the school principals about the plan, one principal said that junior ROTC programs are very expensive,” Carder said. “After that, all the principals jumped on the idea.”

The president said the school would explore the program costs, including how the military personnel who teach the courses are paid.

The College Technical Training Center provides job training for both NPCC students and for nonstudents sent for specific training programs by local industries. However, Carder said, some of the training equipment is outdated, and there is inadequate laboratory and classroom space to handle the climbing enrollment numbers.

For example, Carder said NPCC offers the state’s only marine technology training program, but only 15 students can take the training at a time because of limited facilities.

“The classes fill up too fast,” she said. “And 91 percent of our technical-trades graduates had jobs upon graduation. Those who want to go to work are placed in jobs.”

In addition, nonstudents are trained at the college for local industries.

“We trained 4,074 people in 2011-2012,” Johnson said. “They were in manufacturing, the aerospace industry, health care and hospitality. You can find them working at almost any business in town, and some are sent here for pre-employment training.

A report by the college said 90 percent of the health care workers employed in Garland County were trained at NPCC. Last school year, a new program was created to train clerical workers to develop electronic health care records and convert paper records to computer files for hospitals and doctor’s offices.

A final project included in the funding plan would allow NPCC and partner Henderson State University in Arkadelphia to establish an educational center in downtown Hot Springs., using a building vacated by the Bank of America.

“This is part of the strategic plan for Hot Springs,” Carder said. “It will make our courses and programs more accessible.”

The president of the two-year college said state funding for vocational centers is a specific amount that has not changed in 10 years and that new funding for the college will mean a stronger workforce, attractive to businesses looking for new places to go.

Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

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