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Tuesday, Mar 31, 2015

County eyes adult ed funds


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Hernando County School District knows all about that adage of the pen being mightier than the sword.

Especially when it’s in the hand of a person like Gov. Rick Scott, with line-item veto capability, and hovering over a 2013-14 state budget with $1.5 million allocated for adult and community education.

“We really, really need this,” Supervisor of Adult and Community Education Denise Moen said. “If we get these funds it will enable us to start and begin to expand adult vocational careers and offerings in the community, which in effect would help people who are unemployed or underemployed in Hernando County, and probably neighboring counties.”

Sen. Wilton Simpson and Rep. Robert Schenck fought for that $1.5 million to have a place in the $74,188,072,311 budget, which survived a long line of revisions before landing on the governor’s desk Thursday — in a form currently touted for its historic state investments in K-12 education.

It will be known sometime in the next 45 days whether that funding — which cannot be used toward K-12 — will be available for adult and community education in Hernando County, as well, said Mike McHugh, director of Hernando County Office of Business Development.

“My understanding is he does have line-item veto capability, so my understanding is it will remain or be stricken in its entirety,” McHugh said. “We’ve gotten to this point because it has been a top priority of our local legislative delegation.”

In the fall, home health care aide, culinary arts and cosmetology courses will be offered at Nature Coast Technical High. It’s a foundation the county hopes to build on, McHugh said, which goes back to the top priority in the county’s economic development plan, which is to create local facilities that would help retain, train and educate Hernando County residents to better their marketability and the county’s workforce as a whole.

It was a lack in advanced certification and experience that the Pasco-Hernando Workforce Board’s research and analysis correlated to workforce issues in the area, McHugh said.

“This funding will allow us additional programs on top of those three, but we still have to vet them, and we would be able to add four programs probably next year,” McHugh said. “Having those resources away from our community is a major barrier. It’s best to have that local and nearby in our community. It’s being driven by industry and our need to transform our workforce to have higher-skilled people in the community to attract and grow jobs.”

Should that state support come to fruition and be received by the county, McHugh said, it will accelerate the effort to provide high-wage, high-skill jobs and equipment, as well as the county’s eligibility for further training programs.

That applies to aviation-related programs, which are very expensive, McHugh said. That’s farther down the line than other programs the county is eyeing, though, and there’s several — notably information technology centers, computer networking, graphics and design, health care, health sciences and, if the demand is right and there’s market traction, workforce training in green technology.

“We would want to make sure we have good training and skill, but also to make sure the demand is there,” McHugh said. “You can’t just train people and send them off — it’s going to be required to have good job-placement ratings for the state.”

The $1.5 million would be used strictly to fund that upstart, provided the funding does not die on the vine, and there’s several obligations the district will have to meet still before funding can be considered, Moen said.

“We realize it’s not a done deal yet, but we’re very excited about the possibility of receiving those funds,” Moen said. “If it does go through, we’ve been told by the Department of Education that we must submit a budget and program implementation plan, and submit it by June 30 if we are to get these dollars.”

What that budget and program implementation plan is suppose to look like is not entirely clear at this point, Moen said, but should the funding be there and the district’s plan be approved, the very earliest they could tap into the funding would be July 1.

“They told me (Wednesday) they’re working on a template for what the requirements would be,” Moen said, but when that template is to be complete she does not know. “Soon, that’s all I was told.”

(352) 544-5271

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