Janesville44.1°

Edgerton schools eyeing public-private partnerships with local industries

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NEIL W. JOHNSON
June 16, 2012
— Part of Edgerton’s School District’s possible $9.7 million spending referendum could be linked to a public-private partnership with at least one local manufacturer, district officials said.

Plans are “in their infancy,” but the district is in talks with local company Edgerton Gear over a partnership that would allow students to manufacture specialty gears at Edgerton High School under the supervision of Edgerton Gear employees, Superintendent Dennis Pauli said.


Under the plan, technology students would get training in real, high-tech manufacturing situations. Because the gears would be sold to customers, Edgerton Gear would pay the district for the work, Pauli said.


For the partnership to work, the district would need a new, computerized numeric control lathe and mill, equipment that district officials say could cost about $200,000.


The expense would be part of $2 million in proposed technology upgrades tied to a district referendum that could go on the ballot this November.


Other upgrades would include replacing about 500 computers district-wide and about $800,000 in new infrastructure to create a districtwide wireless network, according to district estimates.


Some of the new technology would fuel potential partnerships that Pauli says are in the works between several local industries and the high school’s technology department.


The idea: to offer educational programs with hands-on, project-based learning that match the demands of the industries, ranging from welding to automotive work.


The district hatched the idea when a teacher in the high school technology department was talking with Edgerton Gear owner David Hataj, Pauli said.


Hataj and owners of other local industries have told the district there’s work they want to do but they can’t find enough skilled workers to do it, Pauli said.


It’s part of a national trend of hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs going unfilled for lack of skilled workers, industry analysts say.


The partnerships would help create a pool of students with training and experience tailored to the needs of local industries, Pauli said.


“I see Edgerton becoming a district of choice and developing a reputation as literally a pipeline to employment if these (technical) fields are of interest to them,” he said.


Pauli said one local company is considering an internship program for Edgerton High School seniors, and a potential financial aid program to pay for technical college schooling for Edgerton graduates who later could become full-time workers.


Another local company said it could pay an amount equal to what it now spends on employment agencies to support a partnership with the district.


“They’ve almost got a sense the plan we’re talking about will get them more qualified employees than they’re getting now from the employment agencies,” Pauli said.


Edgerton School Board member Derek Ninmer said such partnerships would be a big step forward for the district.


“We’re on the cusp of doing something different, instead of continuing to crank the same wheels year in and year out,” Ninmer said. “You’re actually trying to manufacture 21st century opportunities for students.”


Ninmer said he believes the district could retain control over its educational programming, even with industries helping to guide its application in some areas.


“I don’t get a sense that it’s a quid pro quo kind of a thing,” Ninmer said. “I get a sense that these are guys that really want to help out the school district. This is just an excellent opportunity for this to happen.”


The potential public-private partnerships would be tied to referendum spending, which is not yet a sure thing.


The Edgerton School Board has yet to approve spending levels for the potential referendum, and it won’t vote until July 9 at the earliest whether to put a referendum question on the November ballot, Pauli said.


Although the district has identified $9.7 million in spending options for the referendum, including nearly $5 million in repairs to district buildings and a $2.9 million plan to refinance district pension debt, Pauli said a final referendum proposal likely would range between $6.3 and $6.8 million.


The district would pay the referendum back over 20 years. It would create an annual tax levy increase of $25 to $70 for the school portion of a tax bill for a resident with a $100,000 home, according to district figures.


Those estimates are based on eight financing options the district is considering.



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