Seattle gives $1 million to keep Maritime Academy afloat for another school year

Seattle is giving $1 million to keep the Seattle Maritime Academy operational as declining enrollment forces Seattle Colleges to seek new funding.

The city announced Friday it will give the academy — a decades-old program that trains students for fields including deep-sea sailing, commercial fishing and ferry transportation — a one-time, million-dollar boost to cover the cost of operating the program for the 2022-23 school year.

“This will maintain critical technical maritime education in Seattle education that serves as a pipeline for the maritime industry,” City Councilmember Tammy Morales, who orchestrated the payment, said Friday at a news conference with partners from the city, state, Seattle Colleges, Seattle Public Schools and maritime industry.

According to Morales, $750,000 of the donation will cover the gap in operational expenses for the school year. The remaining money goes toward community outreach and the Seattle Public Schools Skills Center, a program that provides high school students with vocational training and college courses. The payment will come from the city’s American Rescue Plan Act COVID recovery fund, with support from Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell and Gov. Jay Inslee.

“I’m hopeful that our young people will take advantage of the opportunity to attend the Maritime Academy and to train for some very high-paying jobs that really offer financial security for them,” Morales added.

The Maritime Academy, based on the waterfront in Ballard, was founded in 1968 as the Seattle Community Maritime Training Center. It accepts 36 students each year into its certification programs — 18 studying maritime deck technology, and another 18 in the marine engineering technology program.

It’s part of Seattle Colleges, a district of three college campuses and five training centers that has been on the ropes financially. A $13 million shortfall is jeopardizing hands-on trade education like the Maritime Academy, Wood Technology Center and Seattle Central’s Culinary Arts and Apparel Design and Development programs, as enrollment at the colleges dropped 66% between 2016-2021.

Similarly, the workforce for many trades, including Washington’s maritime industry, has been in decline. The pandemic worsened the shortage, as maritime workers, such as those on Washington State Ferries, quit or retired en masse, emphasizing workforce development concerns.

“It has never been more apparent than since the pandemic, how absolutely essential workforce development is,” Seattle Colleges Board of Trustees Chair Louise Chernin said.

Forest Reese, a 19-year-old student of the academy’s Marine Deck Technologies program, which trains students to work as deckhands, celebrated the new funding Friday.

“I feel like the maritime industry is really something that I would like to see a lot more people my age getting into. It’s a very important thing that keeps our industry, but also a lot of industries and really our country running,” Reese said. “And I think the Maritime Academy is the best way, and I believe one of the only ways, for people to get started.”

“It’s really important that the vocational schools stay open, for us and for the people after us.”

The new funds won’t cover operations beyond the upcoming school year, leaving the fate of the program uncertain.

“This is one-time funding and we are hopeful that this is an opportunity to give folks a little bit of breathing room to figure out how we’re going to make sure that these programs are sustained,” Morales said.

John Lederer, key industry and workforce development manager for the city’s Office of Economic Development, said Friday that the source for future funding isn’t clear, but the office will look for a way to maintain the academy.

“We need to make sure that the next generation of maritime workers draws from communities who previously did not have easy access to these great jobs,” Markham McIntyre, interim director for the Office of Economic Development, said after the announcement. “That is how we will build a more equitable economy and create future success for our legacy industries. More diversity equals more prosperity.”

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