Continued cooperation between WEC, schools should be encouraged
Kudos to all involved in the new Center for Applied Science and Technology, which will be located in the old Pepper youth center in the 200 block of East B in McCook.
The cooperative, between McCook Public Schools, Mid-Plains Community College Area, the Nebraska Department of Corrections Work Ethic Camp, Valmont Industries and Phoenix Transitional Services, will provide welding and machine shop skills toward college credit.
Students will learn safety, oxy-fuel, stick and gas metal arc welding, print reading, measurement and quality control, and earn a certificate, diploma or Associate of Applied Science degree in welding and/or machining.
High school students will take the classes in the morning.
In the afternoon, Work Ethic Camp offenders or inmates will use the facilities for their training, leaving no contact between the WEC students and the high school students.
Besides freeing up space in the current junior high shop for other industrial and woodworking classes and equipment, the program will give students a chance to learn a valuable trade, and provide skilled workers for industries like Valmont.
It's truly a "win-win" situation, as school board member Tom Bredvick described it. While the economy is grinding into a recession, it won't be there forever. When production does pick up again, workers who owe their training to the new C.A.S.T. program will be ready.
While the WEC is cooperating with the school and college on this important project, it is no longer able to provide labor to the schools like it has over the past few years.
That's because someone rediscovered an old law that prohibits the Department of Corrections from entering into such agreements with public schools and colleges. WEC crews are still able to work for local governments, but they've spent hundreds of hours to the benefit of local schools, students, taxpayers and offenders themselves.
We don't know what purpose the law served when it was enacted, but the relationship between the WEC, schools and college has benefited all three. We can't see what harm the use of carefully supervised WEC work crews on school projects could cause.
We urge the Legislature to change the law to allow offenders to go back to work in our community.