The state’s 16 vocational-technical high schools could enroll many more students and open its vacant classrooms if the district had the money.

“It’s a reality we don’t have enough seats,” said Nivea L. Torres, the interim superintendent of the 10,800-student district funded almost entirely by the state.

More than 6,000 students applied for the 3,000 available seats this past fall, which left hundreds of students across the state on waiting lists.

Torres said several shops remain empty this school year only because she doesn’t have the money.

“Unfortunately that’s not something in the means of our operating budget,” she told legislators on the Education, Higher Education, Labor committees last week. “There is capacity, but it takes more staff and money.”

While enrollment at the schools has remained steady over the last few years, the district that is almost entirely funded by the state has struggled to keep its teaching, maintenance and security staffing positions filled. The district reports it has 41 full-time jobs unfilled this school year, eight of which are teaching positions. State funding to cover the district’s operating expenses has remained largely level over the last several years.

The state’s Technical High School System began coming before legislators annually after a trio of events: news came out that students were learning on outdated equipment; there were reports that safety violations existed on most of the school buses that transport district students; and a district school had to close. This led to the passage of a new state law requiring an annual “assessment of the adequacy of resources” for the district.

That 2010 law also calls for more detailed information on the vo-tech district’s in an effort to enhance legislative oversight. Three years later, however, the district’s budget is back to being a single line item in the state budget, and the State Board of Education no longer receives monthly updates.

Rep. Roberta Willis, co-chairwoman of the legislature’s Higher Education Committee, acknowledged the unlikelihood of an increase in state funding to open seats to more students. “Obviously that would take quite an amount of resources that you don’t have,” the Salisbury Democrat told Torres.

While previous years’ reports were filled with details related to the schools’ fiscal health, this year’s report, by Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor, no information on the school district’s budget realities. It says: “Continued funding at the state level will be essential to the success of the trades/technologies in the manufacturing cluster,” adding that a “paradigm shift” is required to align the district’s program offerings with the state’s workforce needs.

Enrollment history of district.

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Connecticut Technical High Schools’ annual report to the legislature, 2013.

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Connecticut Technical High Schools’ annual report to the legislature, 2011.

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Vacant positions at vo-tech schools.

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Jacqueline was CT Mirror’s Education and Housing Reporter, and an original member of the CT Mirror staff, joining shortly before our January 2010 launch. Her awards include the best-of-show Theodore A. Driscoll Investigative Award from the Connecticut Society of Professional Journalists in 2019 for reporting on inadequate inmate health care, first-place for investigative reporting from the New England Newspaper and Press Association in 2020 for reporting on housing segregation, and two first-place awards from the National Education Writers Association in 2012. She was selected for a prestigious, year-long Propublica Local Reporting Network grant in 2019, exploring a range of affordable and low-income housing issues. Before joining CT Mirror, Jacqueline was a reporter, online editor and website developer for The Washington Post Co.’s Maryland newspaper chains. Jacqueline received an undergraduate degree in journalism from Bowling Green State University and a master’s in public policy from Trinity College.

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