Longview education, civic and business leaders are pondering privatization of the fledgling East Texas Advanced Manufacturing Academy, a move they say could sustain it long after its building lease ends in 2022.
Longview ISD Superintendent James Wilcox spoke to Longview Economic Development Corp. directors Friday about fostering discussions about turning the academy into a charter school with a private entity running it — and bringing LISD’s Early Graduation High School under that umbrella.
The effort involves city of Longview leadership, and it could result in creation of a nonprofit organization that would help provide oversight of the academy, said city spokesman Shawn Hara.
Making the academy a charter school with its own nonprofit management would allow it to attract state or federal funding while also growing it to include more courses and students, Wilcox told LEDCO directors. He added that it also would allow his school district to pull back and focus on its own $40 million career and technology investment at Longview High School.
“We would be ill-advised to replicate something that the taxpayers have already spent $40 million on, and we don’t want (the academy) to be an LISD facility,” he said.
For just over a year, the academy has offered college-level instruction in courses designed to provide area high school students either dual credits or the training needed to apprentice, intern or secure jobs at local industries.
Longview ISD serves as the academy’s fiscal manager. It pays salaries for the director and instructor, and it owns the equipment assets, while the Longview Chamber of Commerce Education Foundation leases the facility on West South Street in large part from a more than $1 million grant from LEDCO.
About half of all Longview ISD campuses are charter schools. On Monday, the district held a town hall meeting to talk with community members about taking the charter school concept to all district campuses.
Wilcox approached LEDCO President/CEO Wayne Mansfield about the idea during that meeting, and on Friday, he suggested to LEDCO directors that Mansfield serve on a panel to discuss turning the manufacturing academy into a charter school.
Wilcox mentioned Hara, City Manager Keith Bonds and directors from local industries to also serve on the panel that could become the governing board of the nonprofit, if it’s created.
“Like all of y’all, we want to grow what we’re doing,” Wilcox said of the academy, adding, “Let’s offer product that no one else has or can offer.”
Recently, state law lowered the age that students can graduate high school early from 18 to 17, provided they meet certain criteria such as involvement in an apprenticeship or internship, Wilcox said.
“Now, we think there’s a bigger carrot for students to come to the advanced manufacturing academy,” he said.
Stakeholders involved in the plan have only a couple of months to resolve whether to follow the charter school route before the Texas Education Agency must be notified, Wilcox added.
“It is a discussion at this point,” Hara said.