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APS to open college and career academy using sales-tax revenue

Atlanta Public Schools plans to open a college and career academy in 2020 to train high schoolers for jobs in automotive, medical, construction, culinary arts and other fields.

The school board on Monday voted 7-1 to approve spending money on a roughly $12 million renovation to transform a district building on Windsor Street into an academy expected to serve about 800 students. The project will be paid for with $7.58 million in sales-tax dollars, a $3 million grant from the Technical College System of Georgia, and contributions provided by outside partners. 

School board members praised the expansion of offerings to prepare students for college and the workforce, but a couple also expressed reservations about adding a project that had not been presented to voters when the district asked for approval in 2016 of a one-cent Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, or SPLOST. 

APS officials said there’s money in the SPLOST budget that could be allocated to projects. Funding for the academy will come from money that had been dedicated to pay for infrastructure work at two schools currently not in use -- Capitol View and Ventian Hills. Plus, the district has collected more sales-tax revenue than it anticipated. 

But officials also have acknowledged that building costs have gone up more than the district expected when it first created its list of schools to be built or renovated using SPLOST dollars, prompting some wariness about adding new projects to the to-do list.

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Board member Michelle Olympiadis said the district is “taking a risk” in adding the academy to the spending plan. She represents an east-side APS district where several of the remaining SPLOST projects, including a Grady High School renovation, are located. She cast the lone no vote on the academy project, saying the district should look for other ways to pay for it. 

Board member Leslie Grant also said she was concerned about the process and called for more discussions with the community. 

“I want this to happen for our students, but I don’t necessarily appreciate sort of the way that the SPLOST package has been moved around,” she said. 

District administrators said that the academy has been in discussion for years and now is the time to make it happen. Opening the academy will allow the district to offer college and career courses that aren’t available at every high school as well as serve students who don’t meet the dual-enrollment requirements needed to participate in an existing college and career training program through Atlanta Technical College. 

Students who take classes at the new academy will travel by bus to spend the morning or afternoon at the site. They will continue to take some courses at their home high school and will receive their diploma from their high school, not the academy. 

High schools also will continue to offer job-training courses, though some courses with low enrollment could be consolidated and offered at the academy, officials said. 

District officials pointed to the state’s increased emphasis on college and career training, which is reflected in Georgia’s recently redesigned report card that grades schools and districts, as one reason why it is important to launch the academy and offer more opportunities to more students.

The district developed the list of courses with input from business experts and with an eye toward job trends. 

Superintendent Meria Carstarphen said that the academy would provide more options for students, including those who don’t have the money to go straight to college. 

“We are opening up access to more certification options for them,” she said. “It opens up many new opportunities for students who may get the training they need to go directly into jobs that pay well or are in high demand.” 

The board has yet to decide how it will pay for ongoing operational costs to run the academy, such as teacher salaries and transportation. 

Board member Erika Mitchell was not present for the vote.

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