HUNTERSVILLE – In an effort to offer more academic options for students and parents, part of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools proposed $290 million bond package includes expanding career and technical education institutes at four high schools, including North Mecklenburg.

The package allots $8.64 million for expanding CTE programs at North Mecklenburg, Garinger, West Mecklenburg and Independence. Course offerings include automotive, carpentry, culinary, cosmetology and horticulture.

Just how much of the $8.64 million would go to North Meck is uncertain, Principal Matt Hayes said.

Being centrally located among several schools, North Meck serves as a hub for Mallard Creek, Hopewell and Hough high schools. Interested students apply to enroll in a CTE program, and if accepted, transfer to North Meck, Hayes explained.

Each school gets five seats per program, and if a school does not fill all the openings, those spots can be reallocated to another one of those high schools.

Junior Taj Middleton transferred from Hopewell to North Meck to be a part of culinary program after he saw what his brother was learning at Johnson & Wales University.

“I wanted to learn how to cook and try something new,” Middleton said.

The program equips students with skills they’ll use after graduation, culinary arts instructor Amy Kovalchuk said.

“They’re going to be ready to go out and work in a restaurant when they graduate,” she said. “They could either continue their education and get more culinary training, or if they decide to choose another field, this will give them life skills that they’ll carry on forever.”

Bond money would be used to upgrade buildings and buy current equipment so both meet industry standards, Hayes said, adding that the buildings, which were constructed in the 1950s, need to be replaced.

“They’re outdated,” he said. “And it actually costs more money to rewire an existing building than it does to just tear it down and build it new.”

The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction has set guidelines that the automotive program has to follow, which are based on the National Automotive Technicians Education Foundation certifications, automotive instructor Tony Southern said.

Though he didn’t mention specifics, Southern said the bond money would provide “anything the students are going to see in the industry once they get to that point or if they go to college that teaches automotive. It’s going to give students a heads up to be ahead of some others.”

Horticulture instructor Stephanie Anderson said she would like to use some bond money to team with the professional community in broadening students’ horizons with what their future options are with horticulture.

“Then as (students) grow in the program, I want to focus more on what they’re interested in, whether it be genetic engineering, landscaping or owning a nursery,” she said. “I really want to have the resources to allow them to drive the program.”

In addition to preparing students for work or college, CTE programs also allow students to get a specific technical education for free while in high school.

North Meck cosmetology students are responsible for buying their own kits and uniforms, but aren’t spending $10,000 to $20,000 for tuition to a beauty school like Aveda or Paul Mitchell, cosmetology instructor Melissa Prickett said.

“It gives students that may not have had that opportunity for higher education or a certificate to be able to earn it in high school,” she said.

Junior Sequoia Southerland is one of Prickett’s 22 students. She said the CTE program gave her a head start of pursuing her dreams of one day opening her own beauty bar.

“Since we’re doing it now, I don’t have to go to beauty school and pay all the money for it when I can get it free at school,” Southerland said.

CMS needs to provide more academic choices to compete with the increase of charter schools, Associate Superintendent for Auxiliary Services Guy Chamberlain said earlier this month. It’s an issue facing every district in North Carolina, not just CMS.

Mecklenburg County residents will vote on the bond package Nov. 5.