Work is under way to bring a class on drones to Newton High School in the 2020 school year, with the idea being brought before the USD 373 Board of Education, the Newton City Commission and now the Harvey County Commission, as NHS teacher Scott McCloud presented to the commission on Tuesday.
"The class is not just flying," McCloud said. "The class is on unmanned aerial systems. Flying the actual vehicle is probably only 15 percent of the class; the rest is in classroom, knowing what to do with the data."
According to McCloud, there are two ways the FAA allows such classes to be organized — either instructed by someone with a drone pilot's license or if taught at a community-based organization. While McCloud has his license, he noted plans are for the class to partner with the community-based organization (the Harvey County Radio-Control Club) and utilize facilities at Harvey County East Park — namely when using fixed wing vehicles (i.e. airplane drones) or potentially in hosting summer camps to recruit more students.
Most of the flying for the class can be done on site at the high school, McCloud noted, though he pointed out that with either site the class would not need to worry about interfering in Newton City-County Airport fly space.
Coursework will be comprehensive, not only in operating and programming drones, but also in looking at professional applications that range from law enforcement to agriculture to news media. That variety also means it could fit into a number of pathways in the high school's Career and Technical Education program.
Enrollment is set to be open to 15 students initially, and it was noted Newton would be among a handful of schools in the state to offer such a course, something both McCloud and the commissioners see as extremely beneficial.
"The overall goal of that class is to get them prepared to take the pilot's license test, and to learn how to program a professional quality drone," McCloud said. "I think there's going to be lots and lots of opportunities for employment."
"I think it's a great idea. It's the wave of the future," said Commissioner Randy Hague.
In other business, the county commission:
• Received notes including a Christmas card from the Walton Rural Life Center and one of thanks from Safehope for participating in its food drive.
• Designated Solid Waste Superintendent Justin Bland to handle recycling disputes between operators and haulers following the elimination of the county's mandatory recycling policy.
• Encouraged spreading the word about the upcoming census, so an accurate count can be reached to possibly allow access to more federal funds.
• Learned that while not initially approved, the county's hazard mitigation grant application (for outdoor sirens and a storm shelter) may be up for further review.
• Was alerted to the City of Halstead's annual public hearing on tax exemptions, which will be at 7 p.m. Jan. 27.
• Received the final sales tax distribution numbers for 2019, which finished almost 6% higher than 2018.
• Heard from health director Lynnette Redington that the county will get at least $175,000 through a multi-county grant to address the rural response to the opioid crisis.
• Approved a bid with Gaynor Electric for $94,389.95 to upgrade electrical boxes at camping sites at both East and West Park.
• Approved the re-appointments of Keith Cowden and Lorrie Kessler to the Harvey County Food and Farm Council through Dec. 31, 2022.
• Approved the Health Department's revised fee schedule for 2020, with a 3% increase in vaccine costs and $10 increase for breastfeeding kits (as the state no longer has its previously contracted rate).
• Authorized the Health Department's application for Phase 2 of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Pathways grant, while also discussing potential ways to fund the Healthy Harvey Coalition coordinator position as full-time if that funding falls through.
• Approved the appointment of Darrell Allen as treasurer of Lake Township.
• Authorized staff to review a used Solid Waste Scraper for potential purchase, to come back before the commission for a final decision.
• Adopted the strategic planning goals for 2020 through 2024 as presented, focusing on community engagement, community marketing, internal collaboration, services and the workforce.