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  • Writer's pictureCharlene Sims, Journal staff

Commission approves grant application to expand STARS

Updated: Mar 28, 2023

The STARS technical training program is seeking a grant to expand the current facility in Pleasanton. The program started in the 2022 fall semester and is expecting double the enrollment for Fall 2023. (Journal file photo)

MOUND CITY – On Monday the Linn County Commission gave the go-ahead for the county to apply for a Youth Training grant through the community development block grant (CDBG) program.

The action came following a presentation at the March 20 meeting by Jay Allen, director of the Southeast Technical Academy for Rural Students (STARS), the area’s technical and trade school in Pleasanton.

A public hearing is required for applying for the grant and it is scheduled for April 10, 10:30 a.m. at the commission meeting.

Allen, working with economic development director Jessica Hightower and Southeast Kansas Regional Planning Commission (SEKRPC) Programming and Financing Coordinator Taylor Hogue, is applying for a $100,000 CDBG grant for the STARS program.

Allen said that with the money they could give the center a more school-like atmosphere with dedicated classrooms and added bathrooms.

He gave a brief history of the program and its contributors. He told the commissioners that with grants Pleasanton USD 344 bought the former automobile dealership building on Laurel Street. Other school districts, Prairie View USD 362 and Jayhawk USD 346 and Fort Scott Community College have provided equipment like desks, chairs and other supplies.

During this school year, 50 students are attending the program. He said that if pre-enrollment figures stand as they are now, they will have 100 new students in the program for the 2023-2024 school year from the three Linn County school districts.

Louisburg USD 416 is also involved with the project. That district has sent down 19 students to participate in the program. Allen said that the Louisburg superintendent said that they were more interested in attending STARS than the Fort Scott program at Paola because STARS offered more things and the classes were at the same time.

Allen said they base some of the classes on the model of the Southeast Kansas Career and Technical Education Center (SEK CTEC) at Pittsburg, a stand alone entity with a program that has been very successful.

There is a 40-year labor deficit in the construction, manufacturing and transportation trades and this is a solution to that problem, said Allen. The industry has recognized that and they have recognized that STARS is trying to come up with a solution to that problem, and that’s been very helpful.

He said that recently a welding company brought in 500 pounds of welding rods because they like what STARS is doing.

Allen said that principals and superintendents from the school districts have told him that classroom behavior from the students that attend there has improved, possibly because the students feel like they have a purpose.

Fort Scott Community College provides staff for the school. Classes offered at the program are HVAC, carpentry, heavy equipment, EMT, welding, criminal justice and medical coding. A certified nursing assistant (CNA) course is on tap for next year.

Allen said that 7.5% of the students have already graduated from high school. Some have tried college and decided they wanted to attend this program. The classes are college credit courses and everyone is welcome to enroll.

Allen said this was just an abstract idea a year ago but has now been turned into a concrete plan. More students are interested when it is no longer abstract but they can see what other students are doing.

He explained the same is true with learning a skill. You can talk about digging a hole but until you have done it with a shovel and then with an excavator it’s just an abstract idea.

The CDBG grant has to be applied for by a government entity so that is the reason that Allen is asking the county to apply for the grant and to run the money received through the county’s funds.

According to county Economic Development Director Jessica Hightower in a later phone call, the grant has a 25% match in which 15% has to be cash and 10% in-kind.

While the cash amounts have not yet been determined by the school districts, Allen said that he has talked to Pleasanton and Jayhawk districts and both have agreed to help with the match. He said that he had not yet talked with Prairie View.

Commission Chair Danny McCullough asked Allen how the program was funded right now.

“Beg, borrow and steal right now,” said Allen. “Pleasanton owns the building.”

Allen said that STARS is not a taxing entity but they have received $800,000 from in kind donations and other cash donations. A group recently donated a ventilation fan for the welding area.

Allen told the commissioners that STARS has some good partnerships now with community development partnerships. Prairie View has had a house building program for years and STARS students are going to become involved installing the HVAC systems.

He told about the American Legion in Mound City calling about a bus stop that was falling down the hill at Hidden Valley Lakes and STARS students have built a new bus stop and painted in red and yellow colors.

The city of Pleasanton has contacted them about doing some work over in some lots and it will all be educational experience for the kids.

Allen said that it is all about sustainable relationships with the community and educational opportunities.

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