A $2.1 million grant will be used to open a vocational school in Washington County. But the five school boards sending students to the school, can't agree on where to build it. If school leaders can’t agree before the end of the month, they will lose the funding.
“I would be devastated if the county of Washington lost $2.1 million because adults can't agree on where this needs to go,” Machias Selectman, Joshua Rolfe, said.
Maine has 25 vocational schools across the state. The next largest state in population is New Hampshire, which has 35 vocational schools.
Cumberland and Penobscot Counties have four of these schools, each. The only geographical area in the state without a vocational school is western Washington County.
Washington County has one school in Calias -- which vocational school advocates say is too far away to benefit coastal Washington County. The students interested in trades that live in this area, “They're actually traveling as far as Ellsworth and Bucksport,” retired MSAD 37 school board chair, Everett Grant said.
Students and school leaders agree, a program like this would be beneficial to this community.
“That would be very good because I could stay next to my mother and wouldn't have to worry about an apartment. I can stay with them until I finish school,” Joelle Bronson said. Bronson is a junior at Washington Academy and wants to work as a mechanic.
“I don't think it's just us, I think everybody could benefit from vocational education. But Washington County has been, at least coastal Washington County has been severely, undereducated in those areas,” Rolfe said.
The 2.1 million dollars will be enough money to buy a building, renovate it, buy the equipment and run the school for the first year. School leaders are trying now to decide between putting the school in a former supermarket in Columbia or in a former car dealership in Machias.
But some of those community leaders say it's not enough money and reference other parts of the state that have received $20-$50 million for schools.
“I think we're paying the same taxes as everybody else, yet we get the short end of the stick. We get the crumbs that fall off the table,” James Whalen said. Whalen is a member of the Machias selectboard.
The five school districts will have a meeting to see if they've decided on a location next Thursday at Narraguagus High School.