ST. LUCIE COUNTY, Fla. — Construction, health care and other trade jobs will account for one-third of all new jobs through 2020 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
To help fill those positions, the St. Lucie County School Board gave its initial approval Tuesday to the creation of a new charter school that would focus primarily on vocational education. But the approval came with some concerns.
For St. Lucie County Public Schools, a chart showing higher graduation rates and higher performing schools points in the right direction.
“Really shooting up from bottom third to the top third," said Superintendent Dr. Wayne Gent.
At a public hearing Tuesday, the focus was on adding something new to the district, a charter vocational school.
The county did a survey on the skills gap on the Treasure Coast and found 94 percent of businesses reported difficulty filling trade positions in high demand.
Dozens spoke out Tuesday in favor of the Somerset Academy’s proposal.
"Whatever they feel they’ll be able to be successful in life, I want them to have that opportunity and I feel this vocational school is that opportunity," said Eugenie Kahle, the PTSO president and mother of two.
Port St. Lucie city leaders say the school fits into their future vision.
“This will be in our business corridor of 1,200 acres and it will be anchor for the many businesses contacting us to grow this community," said Port St. Lucie Councilman John Carvelli, a former school board member himself.
Board member Carol Hilson expressed her concern that, while not implying this was the case at Somerset, 50% of all county charter school teachers are substitutes. There were also board concerns over the duplication of services.
"We will make sure the contract is specific. We hope to continue what we’re doing with our trade programs," said school board member Kathryn Hensley.
The superintendent reminded the audience that there is not a separate pot of money from Tallahassee when charter schools serve the community.
Somerset already operates two schools in Port St. Lucie.
Principal Erika Rains says programs will be designed around that recent study showing the difficulty of getting jobs filled in health care, manufacturing, and trade.
“The first phase will include plumbing, electric, HVAC, and carpentry," said Rains.
The goal is to be in a new building between August 2020 and August 2021.