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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.


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