As Gulf District Schools seeks to expand workforce education at the high schools, the board of Triumph Gulf Coast, Inc. will consider grant funding for two such efforts.
The Triumph board is set to meet next week in the Wakulla County School Board meeting room with a lengthy agenda to consider.
Two items on that agenda are requests for funds to support welding and agricultural sciences at Wewahitchka Jr./Sr. High School.
The district is seeking $125,000 to expand Ag-science offerings and $250,000 to put the welding program at WHS on solid footing.
With both projects, the district would meet Triumph funding by paying salaries and benefits for instructors among other expenses of operation.
The district had initially sought to seek funding for the welding program from another pot of dollars stemming from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and fines levied against BP; the federal RESTORE Act.
However, the district, with county guidance, turned to Triumph Gulf Coast, which was established by the Florida Legislature and charged with disbursing the largest portion of the state’s share from the settlement with BP, roughly $1.5 billion, to the eight Northwest Florida counties impacted by the oil spill.
The two school projects also align with the focus of Triumph board member Jason Shoaf of Gulf County, who has made expanding educational and vocational offerings in the region his focus.
Shoaf must leave the Triumph board if he is elected to the Florida House of Representatives this Tuesday in a special election to fill the District 7 seat.
“The most important investment we can make in our future is out students,” Shoaf said. ”I believe that if we give our students the skills they need to pursue careers they will be able to find good paying jobs, provide for their families and contribute to the community.
“I look forward to shaping proposals like this that can bring more training opportunities to our students.”
The welding program had a tentative start during the just-completed school year, with the district funding the class after RESTORE funds could not be secured in a timely fashion.
Initially, the district was to receive the money prior to the 2018-19 school year.
In its application, the District noted that the welding profession would be in high demand as the Port of Port St. Joe is developed.
Though Hurricane Michael slowed local demand, the need for welders is expected to grow by 26 percent by 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Welding offers higher than average pay, good benefits and potential for growth and welders can find work in a host of business sectors, from ship building to construction, according to the district’s application.
In 2017, median pay for welders was $40,240 per year, $19.35 per hour.
The district will completely renovate the old carpentry shop to accommodate the program, with Triumph grant funding assisting with the retro-fit of the facility.
The total cost of the project is estimated at $345,000, with the district assuming costs of maintenance, utilities and salaries for an instructor and paraprofessional.
The grant to expand the Ag-sciences program at WHS is linked to the district’s upcoming implementation of a drone program at both high schools.
One of the direct applications of drones is with agriculture, noted science teacher Lana Harrison during a STEM summer camp last week.
Agriculture applications are also a prime area for the unmanned systems being designed and manufactured by Skyborne Technology, which has sites on both ends of the county.
The grant funds would help expand a classroom-centered program, with plants being grown in buckets, to one focused on “Agritechnology.”
That folds in a variety of skills including small-engine repair, carpentry, animal husbandry that would make an individual more employable, not just in an agriculture-based profession, but others as well, according to the district application.
And, combined with the drone curriculum, students will be able to pursue several different industry certifications.
Given the arrival and expansion of Deseret Cattle and Timber, the district’s application noted, the program would also provide a potential pathway to local employment.
The total cost of the Ag-sciences program is $175,000, with the district providing salary and benefits for an instructor.
On Tuesday, the Gulf County School Board approved the contract with Triumph as well as a contract with Unmanned Safety Institute to provide instruction for the drone program.