A total of four students enrolled this semester in the EMS/Fire Science course offered at Southmont High School, down from annual double-digit numbers since the district and Career and Technical Education Center in Crawfordsville first rolled out the program.
The topic was a matter of concern for school board members Monday during public session, prompting questions from several who helped oversee the development and creation of a sprawling first responder education center at the school.
“The (school closure) in March, did that play into it any,” board member George Spencer asked, adding, “Is the decline in numbers because of a competing program, or just a lack of interest.”
Superintendent Dr. Shawn Greiner indicated enrollment numbers were down before the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic struck in March, and that the program is unique to the area.
“There was a lack of interest this year, for whatever reason,” he said.
Complicating the issue are the contracts of instructors Nathan Patton and Eugene “Buck” Waddell. Together, the pair rotate their schedules to instruct the course.
Though their contracts were ultimately approved, board president Brad Monts said it was too late to cancel the course for the 2020-21 school year.
“It would be tough given that we’ve already started school,” he said.
Additionally, Monts cited “personal feelings” that would force him to cast a nay vote on a contract with Waddell. He was the lone board member to cast a dissenting vote, rather than abstain for personal reasons.
Waddell’s contract was subsequently approved via 6-1 vote, with Monts dissenting, while the contract with Patton was approved unanimously.
Compensation for the instructors, as with most instructors of CTE programs in Montgomery and Boone counties, is based on the number of students enrolled.
Both Waddell and Patton resigned from their teacher contracts, Greiner said, and expressed interest “to move in the direction of contracted services so they can begin the build the program back up.”
“They felt that with the construction and so forth that there was no safer and better place for those students than right here at Southmont in the space that the board and community have developed for them,” Greiner said. “Their goal is to rebuild that program.”
The Crawfordsville Fire Department, a long-time employer of graduates from the program, was a potential classroom setting for the program. However, the course will continue to be held at Southmont.
“The compensation is reflective on the number of students,” Greiner said. “(CTE Director Sara Nicodemus’) recommendation was to grant (Patton and Waddell) contracted services at the school that hosts it, given the two instructors requested to go this route ... with the goal of giving them a safe environment and a positive learning opportunity, with the opportunity to rebuild the program.”
Any courses held at CFD in the future would have to be renegotiated, Greiner added.