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Mitchell schools pursue welding programs at high school, MTI

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There's a need for welders in the region, and the Mitchell School District is working to fill that void by adding welding programs next fall at the high school and post-secondary levels.

The Mitchell City Council recently adopted resolutions to help secure $107,500 in Community Development Block Grant funding through the Governor's Office of Economic Development for a welding program at the Mitchell Career and Technical Academy. It begins operation in the fall 2012 semester in the soon-to-be-vacated Mitchell Technical Institute north campus building. The entire program will cost $211,000.

"Block grants must flow through a city or county government. They can't just go through a school board," said Mitchell Superintendent Joe Graves, explaining the need for city involvement.

The high school-level program will have a dual function. It will operate both as a feeder program for a new MTI welding program and as preparation for jobs upon graduation from the technical academy.

Graves said some students who complete the high school program will be able to secure welding jobs immediately, but not at the same skill or pay level as those who take the MTI training.

Another approved block grant of $582,180 from the GOED will be used to pay for equipment for the new welding and manufacturing technology program at MTI. That program also kicks off next fall.

At a November Workforce Summit held in Mitchell, Gov. Dennis Daugaard outlined plans for South Dakota WINS, a 20-point plan to get South Dakota workers trained and ready to work in a growing and changing economy.

Daugaard's goal of adding 1,000 new skilled trade workers in South Dakota would add about $120 million to the gross state product, he estimated.

The state Board of Education has approved the programs.

Meanwhile, last-minute legislation changes at the state Capitol are likely to make recruiting students for MTI's welding and other programs tougher than expected, President Greg Von Wald said.

Senate Bill 77, which would have provided $1 million in funding for a new Dakota Tech Scholarship program, got stalled in a House conference committee and eventually died.

The program would have provided 200, $5,000 scholarships for students learning needed skills like welding.

State Rep. Lance Carson, R-Mitchell, and Sen. Mike Vehle, R-Mitchell, both said lawmakers were leery about committing to an ongoing and potentially expensive program.

"My feeling is that they didn't want to commit to any new, long-term expenditures of money," Vehle said. "We are potentially facing $45 million to $50 million in federal budget cuts next year, so we're wanting to be cautious as we go into that."

There is a new funding amendment that will, however, provide $500,000 in one-time money to the state's four tech schools.

The letter of intent on how that money will be divided between the schools and how that money must be used was not immediately available.

The Daily Republic's Tom Lawrence contributed to this report.

Chris Huber/Republic

T.J. Larson welds together a support beam at the site of an addition to the Tripp-Delmont School in Tripp in this September file photo.