The directors of the Fayette County College and Career Academy (FCCA) have unanimously agreed to put off until next year their application for a state grant that could have been worth around $3 million towards getting the program started and funding facilities.
FCCA Board member David Bergmann released a statement, saying that the mid-September deadline for the Georgia College and Career Academies Project (GCCAP) grant had placed an artificial time crunch on efforts to establish the right program for Fayette County, and without any formal involvement from the school system up to this point, the board decided that postponing the application would be best.
"The pressure of meeting a September deadline for a state grant application is not part of the formal planning process, which has no deadline. The grant is merely an external funding opportunity for partnerships that have reached a certain stage of planning," said board member David Bergmann. "The planning process will continue with the full participation of all stakeholders, and without the arbitrary pressure of state deadlines."
Peachtree City councilmember Kim Learnard has led the FCCA initiative, and said that the board "did not take this decision lightly," but ultimately everyone agreed that it was the correct move.
"We all believe this will pave the way to strong community relationships and long term success overall," Learnard said.
One obstacle for the FCCA board has been the inability of the school board to engage with the idea. The first six months of the year were consumed by the effort to trim the budget, which included the difficult decisions to close four schools and eliminate nearly 300 positions.
The board provided $41,000 in seed money in August, 2012, which helped fund the hiring of consultant Russ Moore and the commissioning of an Industry Needs Assessment survey.
The Needs Assessment survey solicited information from local businesses, ultimately receiving responses from 78 organizations representing 24,000 (around half) Fayette County workers. Moore presented the results in detail at an FCCA meeting and in a school board meeting, saying that the data showed a hiring need in the county that would lend itself to the training a career academy can provide.
With the school year only just underway, there has not been sufficient time to solicit input from parents, students, and teachers. Superintendent Jody Barrow says that input will be gathered soon as he and his staff are preparing surveys.
Barrow has been supportive of the Career Academy concept for Fayette County, but school board discussions of what the program might look like have been minimal up to this point. The FCCA board had been prepared to go forward with its GCCAP application without a school board approved charter, but in most cases applicants do have a formal charter, and submitting a tentative charter would make it more difficult to score well on the scale used to determine who receives the GCCAP grant.
Though the grant application has been put on hold, Learnard and Bergmann both said that the FCCA initiative will move forward.
"The FCCA directors are unanimous in their resolve that Fayette’s program must be tailored to the needs of our community, and that it is of critical importance that Fayette put our very best foot forward in this endeavor. The community will apply for available facility funds when the partnership is far enough along to need them," Bergmann said.
One objective is to continue growing community support. The FCCA's board sent out a list of its accomplishments, including a growth in interest from local community leaders from "the original 24 business, education, and political leaders who convened in early 2012, to a roster of more than 180 people. These are parents, CEOs, business professionals, elected officials, Presidents of non-profits, professors and administrators from three colleges, and the School Superintendent, educators, and other school system representatives."
The board has also raised over $45,000 in private contributions, both cash and in-kind, and claims to have more contributors "waiting until they know the school system is serious."
According to Bergmann, the FCCA board is still setting its sights very high.
"Fayette can show the nation what greatness and innovation in education can occur when all community partners are striving toward the same goals," Bergmann said.