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Seeing a real need, Southeast Arkansas College will play a major role in a training initiative for jobs in the manufacturing industry, the college’s board of trustees was told during its regular bimonthly meeting Wednesday.

Bryan Barnhouse, director of economic development for the Economic Alliance for Jefferson County, briefed the board on the details of a plan to integrate SEARK into the Manufacturing Career Pathways pilot program that will train students to fill the jobs most in demand by local industry.

The Southeast Arkansas Growth Initiative, a program created by the Alliance, was the entity that spearheaded the effort.

It makes sense to us. Why train students to manufacturer widgets when another product is in demand and short supply?

Of course, we can recall a Pine Bluff alderman telling voters several years ago that the local workforce didn’t need more training. That must have been before several hundred jobs waltzed away from our community.

“SGI leaders and partners determined that it would be a good idea to concentrate our efforts on addressing the workforce needs of the manufacturing industry sector because it is one of the region’s most critical industries,” Barnhouse said. Within the manufacturing sector, the two most critical employment areas are industrial maintenance and industrial operations.

SGI recently hosted a meeting at SEARK with educators from the community college, the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, Pine Bluff School District and representatives of local companies.

The manufacturers had the opportunity to speak with educators about what their hiring priorities are and the type of training that will be required to prepare students for these jobs.

Need more time

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The Arkansas House of Representatives advanced bills Thursday that would give fiscally distressed school districts more time to get their financial houses in order and created a new state panel to decide the fate of charter schools.

The House voted 89-1 to pass House Bill 1770 by Rep. Mark Perry, D-Jacksonville. The bill would change the maximum amount of time that a school or school district can be in fiscal distress, academic distress or facilities distress from two years to five years.

The Dollarway district in Jefferson County is once such district and state officials have acknowledged if Dollarway does not get out of distress within five years, it would be consolidated, annexed or reconstituted.

The bill has the support of state Education Commissioner Tom Kimbrell, who told a House committee this week those two years is not enough time for some districts to reverse their financial issues. Extending the deadline could help school districts avoid being dissolved, he said.

The House voted 87-0 to pass HB 1528 by Rep. Biviano, R-Searcy. The bill would create a panel within the state Department of Education to review and decide on charter school applications and renewals. A decision by the panel could be appealed to the state Board of Education, which now approves or disapproves charter school applications.