By BRETT WILKISON
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors Tuesday authorized spending $375,000 on a trio of mentoring, career training and scholarship programs to benefit students.
Supervisors said the allocation — a rare one for the county in the field of education — would lead to broader college and career tracks for local youth, most of them students in elementary through high school, and ensure a trained, resilient workforce for the local economy.
“If we invest early, it’s going to pay off later,” said Supervisor Mike McGuire said.
The efforts are aimed especially at lower income and minority students who most often miss out on higher education. Their success could mean less pressure on other government services, including the court and jail systems, county officials said.
“Education is the tool that makes healthy communities,” said Supervisor Efren Carrillo, a first generation college graduate who spoke about his own reliance on scholarships to attend UC Berkeley.
The initiatives are designed to align with other county-financed economic development and job training efforts launched in the past two years.
The funding is set to come from hotel bed taxes, which amounted to about $8.7 million in the last fiscal year.
The bulk of the county’s expenditure — $255,000 — would take place over five years and be focused on developing three new career training courses for local high schools emphasizing science, engineering and technology. The work would be carried out by the Sonoma County Office of Education, an independent agency funded by local property taxes largely controlled by the state.
The John Jordan Foundation on Tuesday also announced a matching $250,000 contribution over five years to support two additional high school career courses and a career exploration program for middle school students.
“We are thrilled to be a part of this work,” said Lisa Wittke Schaffner, president of the foundation formed by Healdsburg-area vintner John Jordan.
The county will make a one-time $100,000 donation to support a new scholarship program overseen by the Community Foundation Sonoma County.
The expenditure is meant to address a growing financial gap for the county’s lower-income students, more than a third of whom come from households far below federal poverty standards. Meanwhile, funding for student loans has been cut and the cost of higher education continues to rise.
“We have a huge need,” said Lisa Carreno, executive director of Scholarship Sonoma County, the new Community Foundation venture.
The program, also supported by private donations, is set to hand out $300,000 in new scholarships to 115 students this year and hopes to expand its annual awards to $2 million by 2016, benefiting more than 800 college and trade-school bound students. Returning adult students without their first degree would also be eligible for some of the awards, Carreno said.
The remaining $20,000 in county money will go toward recruiting and training county employee mentors for a United Way literacy program focused on students in kindergarten through third grade.
The program is currently offered in 20 schools and 98 classrooms in the county, with plans for expansion, said Mike Kallhoff, president and CEO of United Way of the Wine Country.
“Our goal is to get it into every school in the county that wants it,” he said.
You can reach Staff Writer Brett Wilkison at 521-5295 or firstname.lastname@example.org.