March 5, 2013 10:33:49 AM
Lowndes County School District Superintendent Lynn Wright continued his campaign for a consolidated vocational career center Monday in an appearance before the Lowndes County Board of Supervisors. Wright asked the board for its support on the project, which he said will help reduce the dropout rate in the county schools.
"We are one of the few school districts that does not have a centralized vocational center," Wright said. "We have put some plans together to look at doing this. The dropout rate in the county is unacceptable. We have dropouts and students that graduate from high school that do not have employable job skills. We are losing these kids and we need to help keep them and teach them job skills."
District 5 Supervisor Leroy Brooks said he thinks a centralized center would be good for the county, but first, two questions need to be answered.
"How much will this cost and where will it go?" Brooks asked Wright.
According to Wright, the project will cost approximately $15 million and could take up to two years to complete.
"We have looked at some ways to fund this," he said. "The district is in pretty good shape and we need to go forward with the project and we need to make sure we do it correctly."
Wright told Brooks he had also scouted some potential locations.
"One of the places we are looking at is the old Lee High School," Wright said. "We want to try and get something moving."
The property, which once housed Lee High School (later Lee Middle School) before the school consolidation with Caldwell, is located on Military Road. The 96,350-square-foot-building is situated on 14.4 acres. The property has sat vacant for years and it is currently being pursued by Kingdom Vision International Pastor R.J. Matthews and Point of Grace Pastor Shane Cruse. Cruse's initial bid of $175,000 to purchase the property was declined by the CMSD Board of Trustees.
"Our attorney is looking at this to see if we could do it inside the city's school district," Wright said. "We have also explored the idea of having a consolidated career and technology center with the city schools. We are looking at every option right now."
The county has not had a centralized career and technology center since one located near West Lowndes High School was closed because of its inconvenient location.
"It was too tough on our students to make their attendance requirements," Wright said.
Since the central center was shut down, Wright said all three county schools are offering different programs that should be available to all students.
Tech Prep is offered to all three county schools in both the middle and high schools. New Hope High School offers robotics and engineering, a co-op marketing class and automobile mechanics to its students. Caledonia High School offers carpentry and health services, a pre-nursing program. Students at West Lowndes High School are offered business fundamentals and masonry.
"What has happened is we are limited as to what we can offer our students," said Percy Lee, director of technology programs for the Lowndes County School District. "If we can get a centralized location, we can offer 14 to 16 programs. We've done a survey and almost 1,000 of our students said they would be onboard for being transported to a centralized location."
With an aggressive industrial recruiter in the Golden Triangle Development Link and a workforce training facility at East Mississippi Community College, Wright said a centralized tech center could help the community in attracting and retaining industrial and economic developments.
"EMCC has agreed to partner with us on this," Wright said. "They are going to help us with the students and they may be able to help us train adults at some point. This will help create more skilled laborers. There are not enough skilled workers in Lowndes County."
District 4 Supervisor Jeff Smith said he would be supportive of the program.
"We need to be able to recruit industry here," Smith said. "The direction you are going in is what we need economically for Lowndes County."
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