Fayette BoE OKs initial study funds for new vocational classes
The Fayette County Board of Education on a 3-2 vote Monday approved approximately $41,000 for a needs assessment and consultant with the aim of expanding the school system’s career tech program.
The idea first surfaced in July by way of Peachtree City Councilwoman Kim Learnard. As is sometimes the case, the topic of discussion came with no quick resolution.
The board was asked to approve the expenditure of approximately $5,000 for a needs assessment and $36,000 for a consultant to write a grant to obtain the funds for a state grant that would lead to the formation of a career tech charter school that would be housed in a central location.
“(The idea for a career tech program) started with the business community and it has a lot of traction,” said Superintendent Jeff Bearden. Following Bearden’s recommendation, board member Terri Smith made a motion that the expenses be approved. Board member Janet Smola seconded the motion.
First up during the discussion was board member Bob Todd who said he would be voting against the measure because the expenditures were not in the budget and those funds would have to be pulled from other budget areas in a time of financial uncertainty, because if the needs assessment had been done in prior years it would not be needed now and because the school system has the staff that can conduct the assessment.
Todd added that in previous years the school system placed the career tech programs in each high school as opposed to housing them in one central location.
“So why is it necessary to have one center instead of building on what we have at our high schools?” Todd asked, adding that career tech participation has been declining since the state began requiring four years of math and science.
Todd also referenced census information noting that two-thirds of the jobs in county are filled by people who do not live in the Fayette County.
Board member Marion Key was up next. She asked what would be cut from the budget to fund the $41,000 expenditure. Bearden responded, saying the money can be taken from the positions that will be eliminated or consolidated during the current school year. Bearden in responding to another question by Key said a program audit of courses had been performed, though Key said she had not seen the audit results. Bearden agreed that no student survey had been performed.
Responding to Key’s remark that the school system had applied unsuccessfully for grants in the past, Smith said she thought those were small planning grants. The grant program under consideration now, said Chairman Leonard Presberg, comes with a much larger sum of money for the career tech program and is part of a large state initiative by Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle.
“If I thought we could do the work I wouldn’t be making the recommendation,” Bearden responded. “This consultant is batting 100 percent. This initiative came from the business community, not from the school system.”
Smith again entered the conversation, stating her belief that the board was told in July that a nonprofit should be created to explore the career tech charter school and that the business community might be able to come up with the funds for the needs assessment and consultant.
Learnard, who was in the audience, was asked to comment on the question. The answer was “no” in terms of the business community paying the expense up-front, though the way she phrased her response noted that it was conceivable that the school system could be reimbursed for the expense.
Smith also asked if the non-profit had been created.
Learnard said the non-profit would be formed if the board approves the measure before them.
“If it passes tonight, then it starts tomorrow,” Learnard said, then responding to Smith’s question of the business community funding the consultant and needs assessment. “I can tell you that as many college and career academies as there are in Georgia, there are many ways to fund this. And it is conceivable that when the (state funding) comes in these funds are completely reimbursable to you.”
The discussion on the issue continued, with each board member noting their reasons pro and con. Smola said the career tech program with a separate center would include career tech and college courses. She also explained that the school system already has facilities available. Such a facility could be the Lafayette Education Center or, as Bearden had suggested earlier, one of the Fayetteville schools he proposed for closure.
Todd then explained his central reason for opposing the motion. It was not the idea of expanding the career tech program. It was the part of the proposal that would take the programs out of the high schools and put them, instead, in one central location. Key agreed.
“You don’t have to. You can leave them in the high schools,” Smola said, adding that the school system would not be duplicating efforts if the program functioned in one center.
Smith added that it would be worth doing the assessment even if a central location is not used.
“It’s worth doing the assessment even if we don’t do the center. Where we hold classes is practically irrelevant to me even though I think one setting would save on costs,” Smith said.
The discussion continued for a brief time before the 3-2 vote was taken. Smith, Smola and Presberg voted in favor of the motion while Key and Todd were opposed.
Learnard in July had advanced the idea of taking the advice of local businesses and taking advantage of the current state funding trend to expand the career tech program.
There was another facet to the proposal Monday night that was never mentioned. It deals with history and it happened at a board meeting approximately three years ago.
It was a meeting where Todd had noted the national trend towards increasing numbers of jobs no longer requiring a four-year college degree. Todd at the meeting suggested that the school system consider expanding the career tech offerings to meet the current and future need.
His suggestion at that time was met with silence by board members Janet Smola, Terri Smith and Lee Wright.