BROOKSVILLE — Hernando school officials are awaiting action by Gov. Ron DeSantis on a $6 million appropriation in the state budget to build an adult career and technical education center and to expand career-oriented offerings.
Last year, the governor vetoed a $1 million request to plan a $30 million technical education school. The Hernando County School Board sent back a more modest proposal this year. DeSantis said recently he was in no hurry to deal with the budget, because his attention is focused on the coronavirus crisis.
Some political observers have speculated that the state’s costly fight against the virus may kill a number of local appropriations, but Hernando County School Board member Jimmy Lodato, a longtime proponent of career and technical education, said he thinks the governor will okay the project.
Lodato pointed to Pres. Donald Trump’s March 25 announcement declaring Florida a major disaster area and providing funding to the state for emergency protective measures. He said that the economy will bounce back once the crisis is over, and that relief checks sent to families and businesses will keep the state buoyed until then, so he expects no severe drain of state tax revenue.
“I think we’re going to be in great shape,’’ Lodato said in an interview. “I believe the governor will approve the vocational school, because it’s extremely important in getting the economy moving.’’
School board chairwoman Susan Duval does not share her colleague’s optimism. She said the state is spending a lot of money, and it doesn’t have a “real pot of money’’ to spend.
“Honestly, I can see where they’re going to go through and try to cut everything that they can to cover expenses,’’ she said.
She also expressed concern over how much money the district would have to raise to complete the building, considering that the original request was for $9.8 million.
“With everything that’s happening now, that could be a real problem,’’ she said.
Sophia Watson, the district’s supervisor of adult and technical education, said in an email that “with less money, our district will need to put in a little more, as well as reduce the square footage of the building.’’ She said it has not been determined how much the district would have to pay.
Watson said the district staff is hoping for the best.
“We’re just really excited that our legislators in our community believe in this building, and that they’re willing to put their support behind it,’’ she said.
The appropriation, proposed by state Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, and backed by the county’s legislative delegation, would fund a two-story, stand-alone, 20,000-square-foot building on the campus of Central High School in Brooksville. Plans call for 15 instructional spaces — a mix of classrooms and shop areas — plus offices and a computer lab. Construction would take nine to 12 months, Watson said.
The proposed new programs are aviation mechanics, barbering, building technologies, diesel systems technology, early childhood learning, fire sciences, air-conditioning, heating and refrigeration, law enforcement and correctional officer training, massage therapy and a commercial driver license course.
They are basing the curriculum on needs expressed by the Hernando County business community, Watson said.
“We’re continuing to have conversations with our local industries to make sure they support us expanding those programs,’’ she said.
The district also wants to expand its dual-enrollment capacity, so high school students can take courses in the adult career and technical curriculum.
Since 2013, the district has offered part-time, adult education programs on existing high school campuses under the title Suncoast Technical Education Center. It offers automotive service technology, advanced manufacturing and production technology, cosmetology, applied cyber-security, welding technology and a more basic course than the one being proposed in air-conditioning, refrigeration and heating.
“It’s worked great for us, but they are all part-time. They are in the evening,’’ Watson said.
Suncoast will continue to operate, she said, and a new building and expanded program would mean the district could offer adult education courses in the daytime and the evening.
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