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Demand is high for technical education, but a lack of space is limiting new programs

Electrical technology students Beau Clark and Caleb Cosand dismantle panels at the Capital Area Technical Center in Augusta.
Electrical technology students Beau Clark and Caleb Cosand dismantle panels at the Capital Area Technical Center in Augusta.

Local education officials say that a lack of building space, teachers, and special education services are some of the factors limiting the growth of career and technical education across Maine.

Amanda Peterson, the director of the United Technologies Center in Bangor, told a legislative task force on Thursday that enrollment and student demand has surged at her school in recent years, particularly in business, electrical, automotive and welding programs, with plans to add additional programming in the future.

But Peterson said that she still had to turn away hundreds of students who were on the waiting list to attend the school, and she is now having to set up new programs off-site, as there's no space in the center for new classes.

"I talk to other colleagues that have built new schools, and they're already at capacity," Peterson said. "And they have no more room. And it's a brand new school. So the timing of this is also a huge challenge that I see, in terms of, how do you meet demand, and where will it be in five to seven years?"

Peterson added that her center is unable to provide special education staff, and that lack of support prevented dozens of students with individualized educational plans from attending the program.

Local officials added that as enrollment in their programs has risen, it's created more of a need for teachers. Yet instructor salaries are often unable to keep up with those in the private sector, making it difficult to find new staff.

And Bobby Deetjen, the director of the Mid-Coast School of Technology, said that the jobs also may require instructors to take additional college classes.

"We've lost teachers at the negotiation table, when it comes to their contract, saying, 'You're going to have to take seven courses," they're out. Because they're already making that commitment to begin with. Of course we want teachers to be highly trained and feel comfortable and confident in the classroom, but that is a barrier that we have."

The legislative task force is looking at the feasibility of building a four-year technical high school in the state.

The report is expected to be finalized over the next few months.