Two districts approve funding for STEM center

Posted on Oct 14, 2015

On a divided vote Monday, the Indiana Area school board approved a cash contribution to help close a gap in funding for construction of the Central Allegheny Challenger Learning Center and the Indiana County STEM Academy at Indiana County Technology Center.

The directors voted 5 to 3, with one abstaining, to donate $722,800 toward the $9 million project.

At the same time last night, the Purchase Line school board passed its motion to commit to the project. The initial price tag for the district to buy into the two programs is $146,800.

ICTC representatives first asked the Indiana board for funds on Aug. 24, the first of a series of requests to the seven member school districts to underwrite $2 million for the center.

Over the past seven weeks, and in the minutes before the vote, Indiana board members and residents debated the academic opportunities for students versus the financial burden on the budget.

Proponents argued the center would help develop an employable workforce while opponents questioned how it would fit into Indiana’s curriculum.

Dave Coleman, of White Township, representing the Indiana County Manufacturers Consortium, and Scott Deutsch, of the National Center for Defense Manufacturing and Machining in Burrell Township, supported the STEM and Challenger project during the public comment period.

“I look for technically sound people and I think you need to find a way to bring around a new business-learning model as a catalyst to the Indiana economy,” Coleman said. “I hope you’ll endorse and embrace it and grow the county … and show western Pennsylvania how to grow.”

“One of the things we see in manufacturing all over the nation is the importance of this STEM tidal wave that is overcoming all of us,” Deutsch said. “It’s having an impact on the next-generation workforce that we’re developing in our schools. Having that ability to have hands-on learning in STEM Academy learning is fantastic.”

Indiana resident Ben Ford — the husband of school board member Hilliary Creely — said the project would create jobs for teachers and provide opportunities for students.

“It’s easy to argue for the status quo, but standing still never won a race or changed the life of a child,” Ford said. “The benefit that it would bring to the region would be cheap at twice the proposed Indiana Area School District investment.”

Former school board member Walter Schroth, a candidate for re-election on Nov. 3, compared the advent of STEM education to the development of the Land Grant college system in the mid-19th century.

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Courtesy of The Indiana Gazette