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Archive for Sunday, September 8, 2013

School board schedules public forum to discuss Chamber tech ed partnership

September 8, 2013

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The Lawrence school board has scheduled a forum to gather public comment about a planned technical education facility that is now being billed as a College and Career Center.

The forum is scheduled for 6 p.m. Sept. 16 at the Lawrence High School auditorium.

Funding for the new facility was included in the $92.5 million bond issue that district voters approved in April. At the time of the election, district officials said they planned to use $5.7 million in bond proceeds to remodel and equip space the district already owns at its Community Connections Center near Holcom Park, west of 25th and Iowa.

Since the bonds were approved, however, Lawrence Chamber of Commerce officials have urged the district to coordinate the high school facility with their plans to develop an adult technical training and education center in an industrial facility currently owned by Hiper Industries at 31st and Haskell.

"We certainly see some advantages for all parties for us to build our College and Career Center on the Haskell site, but that decision has not been made by the board," Superintendent Rick Doll said.

"Obviously we've got some governance issues to work out if we're located on the same facility and all of those kinds of things," he added. "But our emphasis is on college and careers, not necessarily on the more traditional technical training."

Under a new technical education initiative passed by the Kansas Legislature in 2011, the state will grant tuition waivers for high school students who enroll in post-secondary college and career training courses. The students simultaneously earn both high school and college credit.

In addition, the state rewards school districts with $1,000 for each student who graduates with an industry-recognized certificate for jobs that the Kansas Department of Labor determines are in high demand in Kansas.

Currently in Lawrence, however, there are no publicly-owned community colleges or technical schools that offer those courses. The nearest schools are in the Kansas City and Topeka areas.

The school district's plan was to create new space at the Holcom facility and contract with community colleges in Kansas City, Kan., Johnson County and Neosho County to offer courses there.

Soon after passage of the bond issue, however, Chamber and school district officials began talks about combining their efforts to develop a joint education center that would serve both high school students and adults.

Doug Gaumer, chairman of the Chamber board, said that a consortium of local banks had expressed interest in putting up the money to purchase a portion of the Hiper Industries building. He said the Chamber has been working with an expanded group of community colleges and technical schools that could offer customized training programs specifically geared toward the needs of existing industries in Lawrence.

Neosho County Community College had filed an application in July for a Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training grant from the U.S. Department of Labor to provide funds for equipping the facility. But Chamber officials confirmed that grant application was recently denied.

"The grant application was deemed non-responsive by the U.S. Department of Labor, which means there were other grant applications that took priority, as well as perhaps a not altogether complete application that was submitted," Chamber President and CEO Greg Williams said. "So we, in conjunction with Neosho County Community College and other consortium members will apply for that federal money again next spring, and feel confident that we'll be in much better shape of receiving those grant dollars."

Williams said detailed plans are still in the works. But he said it is likely that the consortium will form a limited liability corporation or some other body to act as a governing board for the school to manage enrollment and select the schools that would offer specific training courses.

"The school district obviously would be doing vocational training for high school kids, which is a very, very important component in any community," Williams said. "The two would complement one another. It would be very likely from time to time that 17-year-old high school kids are being trained on something, standing next to an employee from Hallmark, who are in the same classroom at the same time."

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