PLAINS TWP. – Chris Dommes watched, listened and came away impressed following her tour of the Wilkes-Barre Area Career and Technical Center Thursday evening, Aug. 30.
"Being that my son's a sophomore, I think it's great," said Dommes.
"I like it," added her son Nathan Dommes, one of nearly 40 Riverside High School students who are scheduled to attend the Plains Twp. facility starting Tuesday, Sept. 4 instead of the Career Technology Center of Lackawanna County.
But Dommes also acknowledged that Riverside School District's decision to sever ties with the Scranton CTC in favor of its Luzerne County counterpart could be a difficult move for other families.
"For a senior, it's terrible," she said.
The Dommes family and others who toured Wilkes-Barre Area CTC mostly seemed impressed by what they saw, but their experience was only part of the story on Thursday night. Prior to the field trip, dozens of families gathered in the auditorium at Riverside High School to hear Superintendent David Woods explain the move and answer their questions about why the district has decided to end its relationship with the Scranton tech center it helped found in 1968.
As far as woods was concerned Thursday the move was scheduled to proceed as planned -- but that does not mean it was without controversy, and potential challenges from the Lackawanna CTC.
Parents of students in the program learned about the change in a letter sent home just days after Riverside filed suit on Aug. 21 to sever ties with the Career Technology Center of Lackawanna County. According to the suit, the district no longer believes its continued participation in CTC programs "is the best way of providing vocational and technical education to the students it serves," citing as a key issue the $18.1 million cost of proposed renovations at the Lackawanna CTC, a cost to be borne by member districts including Riverside.
Several dozen students and family members attended the meeting, many expressing concern that the move would be disruptive for students and was only motivated by a dispute over CTC's building project.
Efforts to reach Lackawanna CTC Administrative Director Vincent P. Nallo were unsuccessful prior to press time, and Go Lackawanna was unable to confirm how his organization might respond to Riverside's decision to pull its students from CTC programs, or whether the litigation would be discussed at a special meeting of CTC's joint operating committee on Saturday, Sept. 1.
Whether or not Riverside's students remain on the enrollment roster at the Lackawanna CTC "has no bearing on where we send our kids," Woods told parents at Thursday's meeting.
"They believe that in some way we can't do what we're doing. We believe we can."
He declined to discuss specifics of the legal case, but did say the move will save the cash-strapped district more than $36,000 in the first year alone, as tuition and transportation costs will be pared back from $280,000 with Lackawanna CTC to $244,000 with Wilkes-Barre. Total savings will be more than $200,000 over the next four years, he said.
The bigger savings, apparently at the heart of the legal dispute, would be in not having to pay a yearly cost of $109,000 each year toward the Lackawanna CTC project, or $1.4 million overall according to Woods.
"It will tear the very fabric that holds us together," Woods said of the CTC project cost.
Taylor resident and alumnus Eugene Gallagher didn't seem convinced, suggesting that the CTC project might be eligible for significant state reimbursement, perhaps up to 30 percent.
"True," responded Woods, "but I disbelieve the percentage." He also said change orders and other factors could increase costs.
"Why are we the exception" among CTC's nine member districts, Gallagher asked.
Woods reiterated his main points: Better programs and facilities for students, geographic convenience and "I believe $18.1 million is low."
To those who felt the move is disruptive, Woods responded that students will have a choice about which facility to attend, but any students who continue to attend the Lackawanna CTC will have to provide their own transportation. Those attending the Wilkes-Barre school will be bussed with students from Old Forge, who already attend the Plains Twp. facility.
Whatever happens with the lawsuit, Wilkes-Barre Area CTC stands ready to welcome Riverside's students with open arms, Principal Frank Majikes said Thursday. With enrollment of just over 800, he said the facility would easily be able to accommodate the 40 or so students Riverside plans to send. Before the tour arrived, he spoke with Go Lackawanna about a recently completed $5 million bond project to renovate his school, including wiring as well as heating and cooling.
"The savings are in the thousands per year based in what we've done," Majikes said.
Students and families were provided literature about the school, watched a video highlighting its 25 programs and were led on tours of its classes and workshops.
"I liked the facility," said Kim Tayntor of Moosic, whose son Timothy will be entering the program as a sophomore interested in carpentry. "But I haven't seen the other one."