MOORE HAVEN — Glades and Hendry county commissioners and school district officials are coalescing around a more regional approach to get state funding dedicated to establishing new job training programs at the Glades County Regional Training Facility (GCRTF).
There weren’t any breakthroughs to announce during their recent joint luncheon meeting at the training center, unfortunately. Negotiations are still in progress with state colleges and other school districts in southwestern, east- and west-central Florida. The participants did tacitly agree by the end of their June 12 confab, however, that to build on progress being made in those talks with various educational institutions regarding the needs and GCRTF’s rich possibilities, they probably should join in lobbying legislators rather than continue in the scattershot fashion that has so far reaped little success.
It’s roundly agreed that regional job training programs are greatly needed by residents as well as businesses and governments in the rural counties of Glades, Hendry, Collier, Highlands and even Okeechobee and Indian River. The two things lacking seem to be, simply, a single leader and an overall plan.
With the departure in late April of Glades County Manager Paul Carlisle, who had been heading up the efforts, coordination has fallen to the Glades and Hendry superintendents of schools, Scott Bass and Paul Puletti, respectively.
Mr. Bass has been doing much of the negotiating, but he was absent, so Mr. Puletti gave the progress updates. “Right now, he is under discussions with iTech in Immokalee through Collier County, which has an eye on this facility as a potential branch campus of theirs,” he said.
“And then FGCU (Florida Gulf Coast University), the piece that is really intriguing to us, is that they are proposing to come in to offer alternative certification classes for teachers who are struggling with certification issues and with testing issues.” School districts increasingly are using qualified, degreed professionals in their classrooms because of a shortage of certified teachers, but those instructors have only three years to become state-certified, which has posed difficulties, Mr. Puletti said.
Glades County Board Chairman John Ahern said he understood that the iTech possibility “sounds the most encouraging.” The FGCU idea, however, “would be something that would be good for Glades, Hendry, Okeechobee, Highlands, Palm Beach County and whoever. Where we’re at, right in the center, they can have classes here that would recertify somebody in the teaching field,” he said, asking Mr. Carlisle to speak about his contacts with Indian River State College, including a recent chat with the provost.
“At their Okeechobee campus, their welding school is over capacity from what I understood … and I said: ‘Well, this one’s ready to go. All you need is the welders and that.’ And so, I would not leave anything off the table,” Mr. Carlisle said. “He was really intrigued with this facility and what they can offer from both the coastal (school), bringing them out here, and from Okeechobee.”
Asked about the FGCU idea, Mr. Puletti said alternative certification classes for teachers would be a great development. “This isn’t just a Glades or Hendry problem, this is throughout the state.”
Hendry County Commissioner Karson Turner asked questions about timing and costs but, with answers not readily available, he wanted to know the thoughts of other participants about making a joint funding request to the Legislature, saying he thought that would command lawmakers’ attention. No one disagreed.
Hendry County Administrator Charles Chapman suggested that, “once we have our ducks in a row with something that’s meaningful with some metrics behind it, with our lobbying team, we go to Heartland Consortium and make this a little bit bigger ask. It can help … to push through multiple legislative delegations, not just your two and our two (meaning Glades and Hendry counties and their school districts).”
Said Glades Commissioner Tim Stanley, “We’ve definitely got to have some kind of a plan.”
Summing up, Hendry County Board Chairman Mitchell Wills said: “We’ve got some really healthy conversations going. We just need to make sure going forward that we are all behind one thing, and if we can get the two counties, the school boards and the cities as well, we can all come together on the ask that we have for the region, it’s going to make a greater impact than each one of us trying to pull from different directions. The more that we can come together regionally, and even the outer areas, Highlands County ... it’s going to help the whole region as well.”
Mr. Turner said he didn’t see how lawmakers could refuse, considering that the state already has invested $4.5 million in the GCRTF.