The Troup County Development Authority Wednesday agreed to grant money to kick-start planning for a career academy.
The authority approved $36,000 to the Center for Strategic Planning, earmarked for an 18-month contract the center plans to initiate with Russ Moore for planning for the academy. Moore, who ran a career academy in Coweta County and has since worked as a consultant to start career academies in other counties, will help study and plan for the academy, including where it would be located and writing a grant from the state for up to $1.5 million, said Troup County Development Authority secretary Bobby Carmichael.
The Center for Strategic Planning is a nonprofit organization made up of 12 county leaders representing the governments of Troup County, LaGrange, West Point, Hogansville and the school system, along with local businesses. The group is tasked with helping local economic development.
The academy will likely be placed into an existing building, but will need to be renovated. The academy also will need equipment, staff, transportation and lunch service, which will mean a continuous operating budget that will have to be maintained, Carmichael said.
Kia already has pledged a total $3 million — $600,000 annually for five years — to a career academy. The academy would be an alternative for high school students who want to get job training as part of their education. Students who opted to take classes at the career academy would go a few times a week for classes, where they would learn skills that would likely be in the advanced manufacturing field, increasing their ability to get jobs at Kia and its suppliers, Carmichael said.
Many workers at Kia and its suppliers commute from out of town, Carmichael said. County leaders have said in the past that many locals who applied for jobs did not have the required skills or education to get jobs at the manufacturers, something they hope the career academy can rectify. School and county leaders also hope it will help with Troup County’s low graduation rate.
“We have a major issue in Troup County with dropout rate,” said County Manager Tod Tentler. “We feel like a lot of that dropout rate is because people don’t want to just learn, they want to get out and do the job.”
Tentler said that the career academy will offer students who wish to work and get job skills for after high school an incentive to graduate.
“That might be the little carrot that keeps them in school, and get our folks trained for these new manufacture jobs we have, and other jobs,” Tentler said. “We have to do something, and this is the first step to look at.”
The academy would be established as a charter school, overseen by the Troup County Board of Education. The board approved a resolution saying it would support the idea of a career academy in Troup County. The academy is envisioned to be funded without draining money from the school system’s dwindling budget.
The $36,000 will come from the Troup County Development Authority’s $400,000 paid by Kia as part of the recently closed deal for the authority to issue $600 million in bonds to the automotive supplier. Carmichael said since Kia is already pledging support to the career academy, and the funds should be used for projects that benefit the entire county, he felt putting it toward establishing the career academy was an appropriate use.
“The whole idea is that when these kids are in high school, in ninth, 10th grade, they start losing interest, and by the time they’re in 11th, 12th grade, they’ve dropped out,” Carmichael said. “A charter school would reach these kids at 9th, 10th grade, give them the opportunity one to two days a week to leave high school and go to a charter school, career academy, to participate in curriculum over there that … we envision will be drawn to meet the needs at Kia, Daewon, Sewon, Duracell. … The whole idea is to grab students at an earlier age and gauge them so they see a track through high school.”
Carmichael said in Rockdale County, which has a similar demographic to Troup and where some county leaders toured the career academy, the graduation rate is in the low 90s. At the career academy, the graduation rate is 99 percent, Tentler said.
“Because they’re engaged in something, and they can see the relevance to what they’re learning in high school and apply it at an earlier age,” Carmichael said. “They can graduate and go on and get a job, go to college, go to West Georgia Tech — it just gives them options.”