December 6, 2019

Kirtland working to adapt to area needs

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GRAYLING — The Herald recently toured Kirtland Community College’s Grayling campus, including its latest addition, the Michigan Forest Products Institute, and college President Tom Quinn said those with questions and concerns about the college should do the same.

Quinn emphasized that the new institute was built with state money and the college’s funds, not local taxes.

The institute includes shops for programs beyond wood science technology, including automation and process control, and welding, fabrication and non-destructive testing.

“We’re experimenting with developing a new program in non-destructive testing,” Quinn said. “We’d be one of two to three schools in the United States that would offer that program in its entirety. Most of the equipment is already there. If the job opportunities become available ... we can implement that part very quickly.”

Quinn said the college has switched several programs to nine months, because many students are afraid they don’t have the money for two years. He said about 65 percent of students are part-time, because they are also working.

The college also has industry-sponsored apprenticeship programs, which he hopes to expand from around 60 students to more than 100. Quinn said students in the wood science class had already been hired, through an internship with Case Systems. He said it was important that the college train students in industries that have jobs available, especially ones that pay well.

Lack of job opportunities may be a problem with the idea of using the Roscommon campus as a training ground for road commission workers and heavy equipment operators, he said. While the college is investigating the possibility, he said some of the returned surveys from employers have not been promising so far.

The Roscommon campus is still being used for aspects of the police academy, including the outdoor shooting range, which Quinn said is unique in that it allows long arms and not only pistols, and the digital shooting range, which even police officers from downstate come up to use. It is also home to a truck driving school, through a partnership. He said the automotive program would be moving, on the recommendation of the advisory committee.

“We have classes going on at the Roscommon campus, and guess what, everybody’s got a job,” he said.

He noted that while some say the taxpayers own the Roscommon buildings, state funds were used to build them and not taxpayer money. The other two millages — the 0.84 charter millage and 1.26 1985 millage — are for operating expenses.

“The population base has shifted; it’s condensed along I-75,” Quinn said. “If you talk to students about the drive, it’s like, ‘Whatever, it’s a good drive, not far at all.’ We have employees who live in West Branch, who say it’s actually shorter to come here rather than (Roscommon).”

He said the majority of students are coming from areas along I-75. When the Roscommon campus was originally built in the 1960s, I-75 had not been completed yet.

“Kirtland has changed,” he said. “And it has changed in its instructional modalities and instruction, who the clients are, who the students are, where the students are coming from. It’s just radical.”

He said overall, though, there have been more improvements than anything with the move.

He said continuing to work with the Roscommon campus was no longer feasible due to operating costs — particularly heating — and the presence of asbestos.

Quinn said he doesn’t want costs like that to be passed on to the students.

“Our board of trustees is interested in controlling the costs for students,” he said. “That’s why we went down 5.6 percent in cost last year.”

Quinn said everyone in the district pays the same amount of taxes for Kirtland, which equals around $8 on an individual’s tax bill. The millage was passed by voters in 2014, and used to build the Grayling campus, is 0.12 mill.

“For the school systems I pay 6 (mills), for debt in Houghton Lake I pay 0.82,” he said. “If you do some comparison shopping on it, it’s pretty reasonable.”

He said while some have claimed taxpayers will have to pay for the second building in Grayling, the Michigan Forest Products Institute, he said they do not.

Another point of contention is that Otsego County does not pay taxes for Kirtland.

“That’s a separate contract for us,” Quinn said. “When those students go to school up there they pay their in-district rate. When they go to school here they pay out-of-district rates. When they take an online course they pay out-of-district. So what happens is there’s a compensation for that, because they don’t pay the same tax rate.”

He said there are currently no plans to annex Otsego into the district.

“What we collect up there is what we spend up there,” he said. “We draw a line with that. (Otsego County officials) were kind of on my case — ‘We don’t want our money to be spent down here.’ I answered, ‘Well, guess what, they don’t want their money to be spent up here either.’ So it works both ways. So how do you think we solve that problem? We have a separate accounting system for it; it’s called an auxiliary account.”

Quinn said the college partners with local schools, including Ogemaw Heights and Fairview Area Schools, which he said produces students with the strongest GPA.

“The Fairview school system has very few teachers, and they provide all their students 24 credits at Kirtland free of charge,” he said. “It’s pretty powerful, in my way of thinking, in the way they re-engineered their school to do that.”

Quinn said he is trying to invite different organizations, such as the Rotary Clubs, and local government officials to visit the campus, which he said has been hosting around 4,000 to 5,000 visitors per month.

“I need people to come here,” he said. “It’s very frustrating for me that people want to be critics but they’ve never been here. It’s also very frustrating for me that people want to be critics of the Roscommon campus and they haven’t been there either.”

Kirltand is looking to the future and our education is very cost effective, and offers more hands-on training programs.

“I’ve been here now since 2007,” he continued. “I’m not working to design this place for me. I’m trying to design a college, not only the facilities but the instructional practices and all those things, for the people who haven’t been born yet. Now that’s lofty, but it is a realistic goal for me. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think this was a worthy attempt to do that.”

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