Jordan Braun, a 17-year-old junior at Wisner-Pilger High School, didn’t know what she wanted to be when she grew up—all she knew was she wanted to help people.
“I didn’t know if I wanted to be a teacher, I didn’t know if I wanted to be in the medical field,” she said. “But I was leaning toward nursing because I didn’t really know about all the occupations in the medical field.”
Braun felt that Wisner Pilger lacked the coursework in medicine that would allow her to explore career possibilities in medicine before college. But then, a guidance counselor told her about the Pathways 2 Tomorrow program, which offers career and technical education courses to a collective of six northeast Nebraska school districts, including Wisner-Pilger.
In Braun’s first course in the program she shadowed various medical professionals, including hospital workers, radiologists and ultimately a speech pathologist at a high school. Now she’s considering a career in speech pathology.
Pathways 2 Tomorrow is the product of Education Services Unit (ESU) #2. The program is the first of its kind in Nebraska, according to Director Joe Peitzmeier. It allies six distinct school districts—Bancroft-Rosalie, West Point, Lyons-Decatur, Pender, Wisner-Pilger and Oakland-Craig—into a consortium that shares resources for career-oriented coursework. And now, the concept is catching on. Emerson-Hubbard and Howells-Dodge, two schools from outside ESU 2’s borders, have begun the process of joining. For the pioneering alliance of schools, that means more resources—and more students exploring new careers.
“The general mission is to provide career and techinical education opportunities for kids that the small rural schools that we represent can’t provide on their own,” Peitzmeier said. “Dr. DeTurk [of ESU 2] and I truly feel that this is a model for rural career education in Nebraska.”
Pathways 2 Tomorrow was first envisioned in the Fall of 2015, when several northeast Nebraska schools got together to brainstorm new ways to improve their Career and Technical Education programs through Nebraska’s reVISION program.
The schools identified needs for programs in five high-wage, high-demand and high-skilled fields: computer science, health science, technical science, transportation and agriculture. The schools were concerned about the availability of instructors and the feasibility of hiring staff for classes at individual schools that might only need to accommodate a handful of students. So six of the schools decided to form a consortium.
For example, some of these schools, which have small student bodies, might only have two students interested in computer science. Combining students from all of the schools would create a more feasible class size.
“They can’t start a program like that and hire a teacher and find other things for that teacher to do,” Peitzmeier said. “Us consorting that, it just makes more economical sense and efficiency sense to do.”
The program launched in the ’16-’17 school year, offering a computer science program with coursework housed at West Point-Beemer, which is generally equidistant between all the schools and where most of the course work is still held.
Initially, the program was funded through grants. But it was clear that relying on grant awards wasn’t a sustainable funding model. So the schools formed a joint public agency, funding the program with a penny of each of their respective levies.
Pathways 2 Tomorrow currently offers four “pathways,” or career-oriented programs: computer science, health science, residential construction and education. In the next few years, it hopes to add programs in agriculture and transportation. Classes are two hours a day and focus on creating opportunities for hands-on experience with qualified instructors.
“We renovated half the gym, we made the gym into our own shop,” said West Point-Beemer senior Cole Hughes, 18, who is in the residential construction program. “Somebody wants an addition built on the back of their garage, so we’re going to work on that this semester.”
Pathways 2 Tomorrow also partners with Wayne State and Northeast Community College, offering dual credit in some of its programs. It also focuses on trying to connect students to future opportunities.
“Last year we took two field trips to Omaha, to businesses around there that have to do with programming,” said West Point-Beemer senior Hayden Schuetze, 18, who is in the computer science program.
To Peitzmeier, the program gives kids the opportunity to take classes in fields that excite them.
“We’re trying to reimagine the senior year,” Petizmeier said. “Let’s not just waste those credit hours, let’s make them get you a good start on your career goals.”
Emerson-Hubbard and and Howells-Dodge, who have recently sought to join the program, both heard of the program and inquired about entering.
“We heard about this from other schools that are in our conference, actually,” said Mark Ernst, principal at Howells-Dodge. “We just kind of want to broaden our horizons and give more opportunities to our students.”
Alan Gottula, a guidance counselor at Emerson-Hubbard, believes that the program could provide an invaluable model for small rural schools. Recently, an industrial tech instructor with Emerson-Hubbard retired, and the school couldn’t find a replacement to teach a class for three interested seniors.
“It may be hard to justify some of this for a student population that small,” he said. “I think that’s pretty common with a lot of small schools. This allows us to pool together with other people to offer some of these programs.”
Both schools are expecting to officially join the consortium of schools by the fall. They will join Pender as the only school districts outside of ESU 2 in the program, and will bring more funding that could help with funding instructors.
Staffing has presented one of the bigger challenges for the program so far, because finding qualified instructors is both difficult and expensive, Peitzmeier said. But pooling together resources helps alleviate the burden as it looks to the future.
“We’re growing as we’re learning and we’re learning as we’re growing,” Peitzmeier said.
Two bills introduced by state Sen. Lynne Walz were prioritized in the Nebraska legislature this week.
The first bill, LB1113, aims to make it easier for cities to form public-private partnerships around broadband service. Currently, such partnerships are allowed, but Walz believes they face heavy restrictions from the state’s Public Service Commission. The bill would allow government entities to lay the fiber infrastructure and partner with private companies who provide internet services with less government oversight.
The bill hopes to incentivize companies to partner with local government agencies to provide increased internet services at a lower cost.
“The goal is to expand broadband access across the state of Nebraska, especially in rural areas,” said Brandon Bayer, Walz’s legislative aide. “Other states have done this before. This is a policy that’s worked in more conservative states like Alabama and more progressive states like Colorado and California. It works, it’s been proven to work.”
The second bill, LB998 would provide each of the state’s Educational Service Units with its own social worker.
“That social worker could provide direct services or most likely would provide coordinating services for school districts and for students,” Bayer said. “With behavioral health and mental health being such a big issue going on, not only in the state of Nebraska but across the country, we think this is a good first step in the right direction to make sure we’re giving all students the help or resources that they need.”
That could involve connecting students with necessary resources in the community.
Sen. Walz prioritized LB1113 and Sen. Kate Bolz of Lincoln prioritized LB998. Priority bills move up on the legislature’s agenda, scheduled for debate before any other bills on the floor.
LB998 has been voted out of committee, Bayer said, and will be scheduled to general file for full debate some time in the near future. LB1113 is still in committee.
After reporting record results for the first quarter of fiscal year 2018, Hormel Foods Corporation also announced Thursday that it will raise starting wages and offer employees stock options.
Jim Snee, chairman of the board, president, and chief executive officer of Hormel pointed to the passage of The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in December of 2017 as one of the driving factors for the company’s first quarter success and associated wage increases.
“Tax reform will have a clear benefit to all Hormel Foods stakeholders – our shareholders, our employees, and the communities in which we operate,” he said in a released statement. “The ongoing cash tax benefit will provide additional funds, allowing us to accelerate the growth of our business. We intend to make additional strategic, disciplined capital investments into innovation, technology and automation which will improve our operating efficiencies and enhance margins.”
According to Snee, the company will be offering its 20,000 employees with stock options as well as raising its starting wage for all employees to $13 per hour by the end of the fiscal year 2018 and to $14 per hour by the end of fiscal 2020.
“We also pledged an additional $25 million in donations over the next five years as supporting our communities through product and monetary donations is important to us,” he said.
According to information released by Hormel, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act lowered the company’s long-term effective tax rate, with one-time tax events and reduction in the federal statutory tax rate being main drivers of the company’s first quarter effective tax rate of 0.6 percent versus 33.7 percent last year.
In the first quarter, the company recorded a one-time non-cash tax benefit of $68 million related to revaluing deferred tax liabilities and a $5 million charge related to mandatory repatriation tax.
For the fiscal year 2019 and beyond the company expects an effective tax rate of between 21.5 and 24.5 percent.
U.S. Senator and Fremont native, Ben Sasse, lauded Hormel’s announcement to raise wages and offer stock options to its employees as a result of 2017’s tax cuts.
“Lower taxes and bigger paychecks are big wins for Nebraska,” he said in a released statement. “The tax cuts we passed last year are helping Nebraska families and businesses. Washington still has a lot of work to do, but this is good news for our whole community and especially the moms and dads working at Hormel.”
Fremont is home to the second largest plant in the Hormel chain, which employs approximately 1,400 people. The company purchased the Fremont plant in 1947 and has made several expansions throughout the years.
The company’s Fremont plant is responsible for producing a variety of retail and food service products including: Hormel Always Tender fresh pork, Little Sizzlers sausage and the SPAM family of products.
The facility has pork processing operations and manufactures more than 800 meat and grocery items in total. Fremont is one of only two plants in the United States that makes SPAM.
Representatives of Hormel’s Fremont plant did not return a call from the Fremont Tribune seeking comment.