“I believe in higher education, personally and professionally, and I want every kid to go to college,” Hinojosa said. “However, the reality is that only 36 percent of Americans have a bachelor’s degree and in Cobb, 44 percent of the residents have a bachelor’s degree, but that means there’s a big percentage that doesn’t. (The career academies) are a great way to connect certain kids that may not be connected in a traditional high school.”
During the Cobb school board’s August work session, members learned that the district is considering building two career academies, one in north Cobb and a second in south Cobb, for approximately $33 million each using SPLOST IV funds.
The schools would teach what the state calls “pathways,” which allow students to pursue a high school diploma while preparing them for either going to work shortly after graduation or allowing them to transition into a two-year technical school program.
Under the College and Career Readiness Performance Index, which was approved by the federal department of education in early spring to replace No Child Left Behind, students will have the opportunity to choose one of 17 career paths while in high school: agriculture, arts, architecture and construction, business management, education and training, energy systems, finance, government and public administration, health science, hospital and tourism, human services, information technology, law, manufacturing, marketing, STEM and transportation.
Hinojosa and his staff are still determining the exact size, locations, pathways offered and construction timeline of each school, but the superintendent said they plan for them to be similar to a 1,000-student middle school with traditional administration and staff employees. However, the district would not provide transportation to the academies.
“We are looking at the properties, and part of the criteria is that it’s easily accessible, especially if you have kids from multiple schools coming,” he said.
What pathways are offered would depend on feedback from the Cobb community. Districts are not required to offer all 17 pathways.
“We’ll see what the demand is … see what kinds of jobs will be needed in the future,” he said. “I think you’ll see a hybrid of what we end up with … some local that’s important to Cobb County and Marietta, but there may be some stuff that is just for transformation that will be universally applied.”
Hinojosa said the construction timeline for the schools would depend on when the funds are collected.
“You have to make your collections and then prioritize what are the biggest needs,” he said. “With an idea like this, there will be some impatience, but it takes a lot of planning to make it happen right.”
Chris Ragsdale, the district’s deputy superintendent of operations, said the $33 million cost would cover all costs associated with building the schools.
The school board, which established career pathways as one of Hinojosa’s superintendent goals last school year, will consider approving the SPLOST IV notebook of projects, which includes the career academies, in November or December, with the sales tag expected to go before voters in March.
Lynnda Eagle, who will be leaving the board after December, said she thinks it’s a great option for many Cobb students.
“Career academies and career pathways are not the old alternative track when I was in school like shop or mechanics,” she said. “It’s very rigorous, and students end up with the same diploma, but you’re more career-ready. I support it totally and hope it expands and that we get support from state to go forward with it.”
West-central Cobb’s Alison Bartlett, who is seeking re-election, agreed with Eagle but doesn’t know how the district would pay for ongoing costs such as teachers.
“Since I’ve been elected to school board (2008), we’ve eliminated nearly 1,400 teaching positions, and next year we’ll probably be eliminating even more with the budget as a result of the economy and state financial cuts,” she said.
Bartlett said she asked state Superintendent Dr. John Barge where the district could obtain funds for the career academies and learned that she is not alone in her concern.
“He said he didn’t know, but he knew it was a massive issue and many people have come to him and said they are concerned about the financing,” she said.
Tim Stultz, who represents southwest Cobb schools, said the academies would be a “great resource for the students.”
“They will help move the district from a ‘one size fits all’ model that forces every student into a college preparatory program,” he said.
However, like Bartlett and Eagle, Stultz wants to see how the academies will fit into the district’s current budget before adding them into the SPLOST IV project list.
Board members aren’t the only ones excited about the opportunity while still having reservations about funding.
Hal Medlin, the parent of a Campbell Middle and Teasley Elementary student in southwest Cobb, said he thinks it’s a great idea. However, he’d like to see the district use what funds they already have and “do a much better job of allocating the funds and spending them properly, instead of a SPLOST.”
“It’s very apparent to me that there are kids who either aren’t interested or aren’t cut out to go through four more years of ‘regular’ education, and Lord knows we need students with technical abilities and to fill those jobs, but I believe we pay well enough already (in taxes) and they could do these schools with the money they have.”
Northeast Cobb parent and recent school board candidate Lisa Hanson also said she is in favor of the academies but doesn’t agree with the funding mechanism for them.
“I’m all for (career academies), but not coming out of SPLOST funds,” she said. “SPLOST funds should only be used for capital improvement. That’s what it was intended for.”
The school board will take discuss the SPLOST IV notebook during their Sept. 12 work session.
If approved by the voters next spring, SPLOST IV is estimated to bring in approximately $717 million for Cobb Schools. Collections would begin Jan. 1, 2014, and continue through Dec. 31, 2018.
Other projects the board is considering to fund through SPLOST IV include building a new, $29 million Osborne High School to replace the existing school; consolidating or rebuilding eight 1950s-era elementary schools: Belmont Hills, Eastvalley, Harmony Leland, LaBelle, Milford, Powers Ferry, Sedalia Park and Brumby; replacing theaters, gymnasiums or both at five high schools; and replacing “temporary” building at six more schools.
The theater and gym rebuilds would be at Harrison and Wheeler high schools; theater replacements at North Cobb, Pope and South Cobb high schools, and replacement gyms at Lassiter, Walton and Campbell high schools.
The schools where replacing temporary buildings would be considered are at Compton, Mount Bethel, Tritt and Sope Creek elementary schools and Tapp and Daniell middle schools.
The Technical System of Georgia has awarded 25 start-up grants to school districts and their associated colleges statewide for the last six years for career academies, resulting in a $74 million investment.
The grant has been awarded to three districts in the metro Atlanta: Fulton County Schools and Atlanta in 2007, Douglas County Schools and West Georgia Tech in 2008, and Decatur City Schools and DeKalb Tech in 2009.
If voters approve SPLOST IV, Hinojosa said the district would probably pursue this additional funding as well.