If you ever doubt that industry participation has a positive impact on the education system, ask Mike Herdrich.
His experience is a testament to the importance of tire dealers' and service shop operators' involvement with local schools.
Mr. Herdrich teaches a four-year automotive technology program at St. Helens High School in St. Helens, Ore., a small town north of Portland with a relatively small school district (3,500 students). Like many districts around the country, money is tight in St. Helens, and a weak local economy hasn't helped matters.
To be fair, automotive instructors have been battling tight budgets there for a long time.
``Budget constraints have meant no capital improvements since the program's inception in 1984. The schools in our district have endured nearly $4 million in budget reductions in the last three years alone,'' Mr. Herdrich explained.
When another round of budget cuts (exceeding $2.3 million) occurred, it appeared that all the easy options had already been exhausted. The St. Helens school district would be forced to lay off more teachers, close and consolidate school buildings and eliminate even more classes-including popular ones. At this point, no program within the district would be spared the cuts.
Fortunately, Mr. Herdrich has a solid advisory committee comprising local professionals from new-car dealerships, independent repair shops and auto parts jobbers. He wasted no time mobilizing the committee members to make a strong showing at the school board's budget hearings.
This is an old but important tune, readers. You are all taxpayers and when taxpayers turn out in strength, amazing things can happen at these budget meetings. I've been preaching that point within this column for years.
``Due in large part to their strong showing of support during the budget hearings, my program escaped serious cuts. Not all the departments were as fortunate or, for that matter, represented at the meetings,'' Mr. Herdrich told me.
How about that! Local auto service industry owners and managers like you responded to the issue, focused their energy on an issue in a timely manner and got results. This is simple but effective-and therefore, newsworthy. On the other hand, the ``unsupported'' programs suffered.
As far as I'm concerned, the results are extra impressive because today it's commonplace for automotive training programs to be canceled for lack of support.
If there's one thing the auto repair industry doesn't need right now, it's a dwindling supply of potential new hires for the service bays. Hopefully this example will prompt a few readers to telephone a local school and inquire about joining the advisory committee for the auto repair program.
Earlier, Mr. Herdrich said that his program had gone without capital improvements for years. But once again, plain old industry involvement softened the blow.
``Donations of good used equipment and training materials have helped to expand and modernize the curriculum significantly. Just in the last few years, we have received front-end alignment equipment, which is great for teaching concepts of geometry. We also received a diagnostic oscilloscope capable of demonstrating distributorless ignition systems,'' he said.
What's more, local professionals also helped Mr. Herdrich receive engines and components from American Honda Motor Co. Inc., training materials from a local General Motors Corp. car dealer and a complete information system from Alldata L.L.C. As they're fond of saying out in the country, readers, that ain't hay!
At the risk of repeating myself, I'll just say it again because this is so important to our future: You don't know the positive contribution you can make until you try.
If you never get involved with an advisory committee, you'll never realize that it could have been for the nearest school's auto repair program.