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Denison School District considers establishing a career academy

Denison School District considers establishing a career academy

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At a number of meetings when the Denison School Board members discuss short- and long-range plans for facilities, the concept of a career academy has been brought up.

At its July meeting, the school board decided by a majority consensus to put a career academy to the forefront of plans.

According to the Iowa code, a career academy is a career-oriented program of study that links secondary career and technical education to a postsecondary program, and it requires the following three elements.

• Concurrent enrollment coursework in which students earn both high school and college credit when they successfully complete their coursework

• A sequence of coursework with a career theme that provides a foundation for entry into the postsecondary program

• Strong partnerships between employers, school districts, higher education institutions and the community

Superintendent Mike Pardun pointed out at the July meeting that a career academy would expand opportunities for students.

“Which is our top priority,” he continued. “It is always important to do that.”

A career academy falls under the topic of facility plans because some funding would be needed for physical space to run the programs offered by the academy.

Pardun said at the board’s August meeting that he, Scott Larson (the district’s business manager), Dr. Terry Murrell (president of Western Iowa Tech Community College) and some of Murrell’s staff had met mostly to discuss finances and where the Western Iowa Tech board’s commitment level might be for a career academy concept.

“It was a very positive meeting, very interesting,” said Pardun. “They would see this as a high priority just as you folks indicated at your last board meeting.”

He added that Murrell and his staff believe state money is available for a career academy, around $1 million.

“He (Murrell) can’t commit to that, just as I can’t commit on your behalf,” Pardun told the school board members. “There were discussions just like we’ve had about our willingness to commit dollars toward such a project as well.”

He said the next stage is that Western Iowa Tech is going to start to monitor the state funding to see when that might become available.

“We would also look at a couple career academy sites in the state,” Pardun continued.

“Western Iowa does not really have one in place anywhere except in Sioux City. Sioux City Public Schools kind of runs their own and they don’t really have another partner besides Western Iowa Tech.

“From Western Iowa Tech’s perspective, we would want this to be something that obviously would serve more,” he continued. “We’re interested in serving the students we’re responsible for, but if other county-wide students from other schools choose to be a part of it, they certainly could join in.”

Pardun is optimistic about the likelihood of getting some state funding, based on the scarcity of career academies in western Iowa and the fact that career academies are important to the governor.

A 28E agreement between the Denison district and Western Iowa Tech has been discussed.

In terms of a discussion of financing a career academy, Pardun said everything is very much speculation at this point, as there is no visual draft concept; everything is conceptual at this point.

As part of the conceptual process, the district has forecast the need for an estimated $1.5 to $2 million over the next few fiscal years as the partnership with Western Iowa Tech is explored.

That money would come from the state penny sales tax for school infrastructure.

The district currently receives about $2.1 million per year in the penny sales tax revenue plus another $55,000 in penny sales tax from the Schleswig School District for its students who are educated at Denison High School. Another $150,000 for facilities is generated by the board’s Physical Plant and Equipment Levy.

However, a substantial amount of that revenue is already spoken for. Currently, $630,000 goes toward retiring bond debt.

The administration and board has put in its financial forecasting the possibility of the $630,000 bond going to $1.25 million beginning with fiscal year 2023-2024. Pardun said that is speculation depending on whether or not the district decides to do a project at Broadway elementary.

“Those are also just guesses on our part should we prioritize such a project,” he said.

Other penny sales tax revenue is allotted annually to upgrade the district’s transportation fleet and to replenish or replace technology, such as tablets for students. Ongoing facility maintenance is also paid for from the penny sales tax.

The Denison district has built up a balance of the sales tax revenue for use for future projects. A project list the board reviews each month shows how annual sale tax revenue and the balance funds might be used. However, none of the future projects listed have been decided upon.

Pardun explained that most of the money for the career academy will go toward some sort of space to deliver the programs, whether it’s something close to the high school or something done jointly with Western Iowa Tech.

He said the high school already has the staff to teach the courses that would be offered by a career academy.

The career academy would allow the district to consolidate some of its programs. Pardun listed welding, industrial tech, agriculture as examples, as well as health trades and teaching.

A culinary program was also mentioned by Kris Rowedder, president of the school board.

Moving those programs to a career academy would free up space on the lower level of the high school for other purposes.

“The space freed up in the lower level would allow us to explore improvements to our wrestling space, changing spaces for physical education, additional classrooms for other programs, etc.,” Pardun told the Denison Bulletin and Review. “No plans here yet either, just thinking what might be possible.”

Also at the August school board meeting, Pardun said that after the discussion with Western Iowa Tech, the community college would prefer the physical space for a career academy to be closer to its campus on the east side of Denison.

“Which makes sense from a training county-wide perspective and a marketing perspective,” he continued. “That’s how some of those academies are developed in other parts of the state.”

Pardun said time and energy will be spent this fall to continue to develop the concept of a career academy, the facility needs of the academy and the space at the high school that could be used for other purposes when programs move to the academy.

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