March 22, 2006 - Barely old enough to vote, Alex Hoobler can pinpoint car troubles and fix most of them.

The 18-year-old already gets paid to change oil and perform basic maintenance work on customer vehicles at Douglas Automotive, located at the Interstate 10/Cortaro Road interchange.

Hoobler won't go to a four-year college when he graduates from Mountain View High School in May. Instead, he plans to attend a two-year school, like the majority of students taking automotive technology classes at the high school.

"I don't really want to go to college for that long," Hoobler said.

Marana Unified School District aims to prepare students for a university, community college, trade school or a job, Superintendent Denny Deardon said.

So, the MUSD board on March 23 will decide if the district will pursue joining a yet-to-form Pima County Joint Technology Education District.

A JTED is an overlay district consisting of two or more school districts. Since 1990, 10 JTEDs have formed in Arizona, where 70 schools participate.

Because the state gives more money to JTED schools, legislators have put a cap on any more of the super districts forming.

However, Pima County lobbied for and was granted permission to pursue a JTED.

The Pima district could consist of nine school districts, all hoping to beef up their vocational programs with increased state funding.

Four Pima school districts have voted in favor of joining a JTED. Voters in Sunnyside, Tanque Verde, Catalina Foothills and Sahuarita school districts will decide in November if they agree with their school boards.

Mountain View and Marana high schools offer more than 20 career-specific classes. Almost 2,000 juniors and seniors take the classes at both high schools.

MUSD's annual funding for vocational programs could more than double if the district became part of a JTED. This year, the programs' funding dropped more than $30,000 to about $295,000.

With a JTED, the two high school's would get more than $860,000 for vocational programs, officials estimate.

JTED is partially funded through a tax levy of five cents per $100 of assessed property. The owner of a $250,000 home would pay $12 per year. It would cost a small business owner about $50 per year, officials said.

It looks good on paper, but MUSD board members have concerns.

"I'm on the fence on this," Bill Kuhn said. "The concept is great, but there are a lot of unknowns."

Kuhn wonders how much say MUSD would have if Tucson Unified School District joined the JTED, bringing with it almost 6,000 students in vocational programs, by far the most in the county.

The state gives school districts $1 for each vocational student. Funding increases by 25 cents per student, if a district belongs to a JTED.

If a Pima JTED formed, the extra 25 cents would be put into a pot to fund all participating districts, said Tina Norton, Chief Financial Officer for the Pima County Superintendent's Office.

"Right now, $54 million from (Pima County) taxes annually go to JTEDs," said Mary Jondrow, director of Pima and Santa Cruz County Tech Prep Consortium.

"Not one cent comes to Pima County."

Since being hired in July, Dearden has taken part in several discussions about JTEDs with other superintendents. School boards find themselves struggling with a decision, because "there are not a lot of details," he said.

"No one knows who the players are going to be."

Initially, a JTED board includes a member from each participating school district, who is not already on a school board.

That changes after a year, once the board hires a superintendent and an election is held to determine who sits on the board.

District lines probably will be redrawn (only for the JTED) so each board member represents a fairly equal number of voters, officials said.

In the case of Phoenix's Western Maricopa Education Center District, eight initial board members shrank to five when district lines changed. JTED board members represent a cross-section of voters, not a specific school district, West-Mec Superintendent Greg Donovan explained.

West-Mec will add its 12th school district July 1.

By all accounts, the Pima JTED would have one intergovernmental agreement for all participating school districts. Some MUSD officials want voters to see the JTED issue on the ballot this November.

The Marana district would not have a say in the agreement, if it joined the JTED a year or two down the road, MUSD officials fear.

"(School districts) have to realize they are entering into a partnership with a whole new district," Donovan said. "With that, you do things differently. You just have to accept it."

Donovan's JTED draws up a specific agreement for each participating school district.

The Pima JTED's intergovernmental agreement will determine what programs are offered, what money will go to the JTED and what money will stay with local jurisdictions, said Cathie Raymond, Career and Technical Education Coordinator for Marana's high schools.

Initially, Pima would be a "satellite district," with students taking specialized classes at their respective schools. Future plans would include a central facility. Students would be bused from their schools to that facility, if built, officials said.

West-Mec failed in its only attempt to have voters approve a bond for a main building. Every student in the West-Mec district currently attends vocational classes at their respective high schools.

MUSD employs 23 CTE instructors, who teach everything from interior design and photography to computer programming and culinary arts.

About 100 students each year get turned away from the culinary arts program and several other programs are full. Automotive and welding students at MHS use outdated equipment, Principal Jim Doty said.

Many times, students "don't have the skills to step into a job when they graduate," Doty added.

Increased money from a JTED "would be used for state-of-the-art equipment, expanded facilities and expanded staffing," Dearden suggested.

MVHS automotive technology teacher Warren Lynn thinks a JTED is a bad idea.

"We already have pretty good programs," said Lynn, who will retire at the end of the school year.

"Yeah, it looks good on paper. But if we get involved in a larger school district with Tucson, they might run the whole show."

JTED proponents tout statistics from local and national studies.

The nation will lose more than 70 percent of its skilled workforce in the next 10 years, according to the National Center for Leadership in Education.

The Pima County Workforce Investment Board claims industries such as construction, education, healthcare and information technology will generate more than 100 job openings a year locally.

The more training a student receives in school, the less he or she needs on the job, Dearden said.

The MUSD board will discuss the issue again before it votes on March 23. If approved, voters in November will have the final say of whether Marana becomes part of the JTED.

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