In California, the only thing more popular than education are green jobs, so any combination of the two should be nothing short of unassailable.
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However, one Central Valley school district's plan to build a technical high school preparing students for jobs in the green tech sector has caused some residents to wonder if the project is worth the cost.
The Lodi Unified School District came up with the idea to create an academy-style high school dedicated to small-group learning focused around a single subject area in 2006. After kicking around a few other ideas, district officials settled on a curriculum designed to provide students with the skill set needed not only to secure jobs in the green tech field immediately upon graduation but also be successful in college environments.
The facility will feature an on-site water treatment plant, solar panels, wind power turbines, a computer lab where students can create 3-D models of projects they create along with wood and metal shops where they can turn those designs into reality, a living roof, a garden where students can grow food and a school kitchen where students can eat the food they grew.
Assistant Superintendent Art Hand envisions students will work on projects like building solar-powered model airplanes.
The first of its kind in the state, the school will cost $37 million and its construction will be paid for by federal grants, state funds designated for school buildings and a portion of a $114 school bond passed by the community in 2006.
The school will also look to secure private sector partnerships to supplement its public funding. The Stockton Record reports:
Hand is researching the corporate landscape for companies that could sponsor the school and its unique programs.
"We're looking to the corporate world where there is opportunity," he said. "You look at a company like UPS that is taking its own steps to become more green - is there an opportunity there to strike up a partnership? We want to find out."
Local schools are largely funded by property taxes and the amount of money San Joaquin County, where the school is located, has taken in from those taxes has dropped precipitously in recent years as a result of the housing crisis.
As such, some, like school district trustee Ron Heberle, are wondering if the large costs associated with opening the school are justified when the district is simultaneously fighting to avoid laying off teachers.
"Now is not the time for an expense of this magnitude," [Herble] told his peers last month, adding that three weeks into the new school year, staff was still struggling to find desks for all of the district's students.
"I don't want this project to be a drain. Opening this school will have a rippling effect on our current schools. You open a new school, you limit opportunities for other students," Heberle said.
District officials are quick to point out that the 2006 bond was specifically targeted toward school construction and cannot be used for pencils, paper or teach salaries.
Paul Verdegaal, one of the project's foremost detractors, slammed the plans in a recent editorial in the Lodi News-Sentinel. "The LUSD budget went from $108 million when I became involved to recently $250 million (before reductions)," the former PTA member wrote. "During that same time and to the present, half of the high school graduates require remedial English and math on entering college. The best students still do very well; in site of the system, not because of it. Those who don't have the resources or need more direction are being short-changed."
This school isn't the district's initial foray into the green technology sector. It just completed a 2.1-megawatt solar panel project that sees a number of area school selling electricity back to the grid. There are plans to eventually have the new school eventually sell as much energy back to the grid as it takes in.
While this academy would be the first secondary school in California to exclusively focused on clean technology, these types of programs have been becoming increasingly common across the state. In 2009, PG&E sponsored a pilot program at five high schools, such as Berkeley High, training students in green energy technologies.
There are already high schools centered around green technology in Austin, TX and Albany, NY.
Earlier this year, the California State Senate passed a bill creating 90 California Partnerships Academies training students in green technologies within already existing pubic schools; this school is not part of that program.
"The fact of the matter is many of our students drop out of high school because they're bored and unmotivated. It's not because they're less intelligent than their peers, they simply don't see traditional curriculum leading to a real job," said Senate President pro Tm Darrel Steinberg, who sponsored the bill. "When these students are taught the core subjects of English, math and science in a way that applies to real-world technical skills, they become engaged, motivated and more successful than ever before."
Lodi's own green tech academy is tentatively scheduled to open its doors to students in the fall of 2014.
Check out some of the school's proposed features below: