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Sonoma County set to spend $375,000 on mentoring, career training, scholarships for students


The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors today is to consider recommendations to allocate $375,000 for a trio of mentoring, career training and scholarship programs to benefit elementary to high school-aged youths.

Supporters say the new and expanded programs are needed to provide a clearer path to post-secondary education, especially for disadvantaged students, and to prepare future workers for jobs in growing industries.

"We know that an educated workforce will be a stronger contributor to the economic, social and cultural health of our communities," said Supervisor Mike McGuire, who together with Supervisor Efren Carrillo recommended the initiatives to the full board.

The initiatives would join a number of other county-financed efforts to promote workforce training and economic development.

The largest package, also spearheaded by McGuire and Carrillo and approved by the board in 2011, called for a $600,000 annual allocation over five years for programs to retain current companies and recruit new ones, guide businesses over regulatory hurdles and create industry clusters around health care, biotechnology, manufacturing, tourism and agriculture.

The new measures would extend those efforts to the next generation of workers, or what Carrillo called "our principal asset: Our children and youth."

Fiscal watchdogs so far have been silent on the proposal, although they criticized previous efforts as government overreach that duplicated other public or private-sector ventures. Some of those ventures have failed to hit their job creation targets, critics said.

The new funding would come from the same principal source for the existing county initiatives: A tourism and advertising account supported by hotel bed taxes, which last fiscal year amounted to about $8.7 million.

The bulk of the new spending, $255,000, would take place over five years and would be focused on developing three new career training courses for local high schools emphasizing career paths in science, engineering and technology.

They would be developed by the county Office of Education, where previous state cuts have curtailed the launch of such initiatives, said Stephen Jackson, the office's director of career development and workforce preparation.

With private money, the office plans to develop two more courses and offer programs in agriculture, hospitality and culinary training as well as workplace mentoring and internship positions.

The next largest sum, $100,000, would boost a new local scholarship program overseen by the Community Foundation of Sonoma County to support lower income students enrolling in training schools, junior colleges and four-year universities.

County figures show that 43 percent of high school graduates continue with post-secondary education. Less than a quarter of low-income students complete their degrees, with only a 3 percent graduation rate among the extremely poor, a pair of local and national studies found.

Scholarship Sonoma County, the Community Foundation effort still in its first year, would aim to improve those rates by providing 1,500 scholarships over the next four years. College counseling, financial aid and other outreach would also be offered through a partnership with the San Rafael-based nonprofit 10,000 Degrees.

The remaining $20,000 would go toward expansion of a United Way mentoring program that aims to improve literacy, starting with students in kindergarten.

Carrillo, who volunteers with the program in Roseland classrooms, called it a "game changer" improving students' chance for success.

Although not called out in their proposal, Carrillo and McGuire said the board is likely to require an annual report to measure results for each of the new efforts.

You can reach Staff WriterBrett Wilkison at 521-5295 or brett.wilkison@pressdemocrat.com.