Plan still on to push for iTech branch in Glades County

MOORE HAVEN — During a joint workshop of the Glades County School Board, the County Board and the Moore Haven City Council Tuesday night, Jan. 29, at the Glades County Regional Training Facility (GCRTF), Superintendent Scott Bass said the word of the night was “perseverance.”

There was determination in the room but, unfortunately, not the happy news the participants were hoping for, or that Mr. Bass had hoped to be announcing.

Before the holidays, he had been very optimistic that their concerted pitch for a $5.4 million Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) Job Growth Grant — submitted with Collier County and the Collier school district along with the Glades County bodies — would be successful. He’d spoken with former Gov. Rick Scott about it, even, but had no interaction with him in the days before he signed off on the grant selections at the end of his term and left office, he said.

“We did not get the Job Growth Grant. Myself and a representative from Collier County and Glades County Commissioner John Ahern went up to Tallahassee two weeks ago to meet with Ken Lawson, the new director of the Department of Economic Opportunity,” Mr. Bass explained. “And they are basically waiting on Gov. (Ron) DeSantis’s budget to see if there’s job growth dollars in his budget.”

Plan is ‘to be persistent’

“If there is,” Superintendent Bass continued, “they are assuming that there will be job growth grant opportunities again. They think there will be. And at that time, we will then resubmit our grant.”

He explained that nothing has changed as far as Collier County, the Collier County School Board and Immokalee iTech are concerned — “they’re still on board with wanting to make it (the GCRTF) a branch campus. All of our partners are still on board and want to move forward — that being Highlands, Okeechobee and Hendry county school districts.

“We were really disappointed, obviously, that we didn’t get the funding, because we kind of thought we were going to get it.”

Asked what had happened, he said, “They awarded all the grants. You know, they awarded all the money, the $85 million. We were not given any reason why. Ken Lawson is new to that position, so we really didn’t expect him to know why.”

So from this point, Mr. Bass vowed, “We’re going to be persistent, and we’ll move forward. We’ll be talking with Senator (Ben) Albritton next week to brief him on the project and bring him up to speed on what we found out when we did go to Tallahassee. Senator (Kathleen) Passidomo is aware of the project, and we’re also going to pursue, possibly, a legislative appropriation for funding,” he said.

The grant that the parties had been seeking will not be scaled back at all, Mr. Bass added. And that is to open it solely as an iTech branch with no other educational institutions involved, at least so far.

The superintendent explained the group’s hopes:

“The way that career and technical education is funded, the funding comes in from the back end, so basically you’ve got to have the start-up money up front, and then as those students come in and work through their program, complete it and get their certifications, the funding from the state comes. So the $5.4 million is to get your upfront money and to operate you for a couple of years, and then the thought is that … after five years, it’ll be sustainable.”

Programs that have been talked about to bring to an iTech branch in Glades County include nursing and air conditioning and heating. Commercial driver license training already is being offered at the GCRTF, as well as citizenship classes, through a private firm and the Glades school district.

But at Monday’s County Board meeting, Commissioner Ahern threw an additional possibility into the mix. During a long discussion of instituting a full-time, paid fire department in Glades County, one citizen mentioned that they could use the training center as the perfect place to produce more new, young firefighters. “I think that’s something we should look into and consider starting a training program, and it doesn’t have to just be for our kids. Kids can come from Okeechobee or Hendry county; I don’t care where they come from. But train our own,” suggested Ellen Beers, a resident of Muse, which essentially no longer has fire protection because of a lack of volunteers.

Commissioner Ahern responded by saying, “We have to assess what our needs are, but that is certainly one of them,” and added that he’d press for such a program to be included in the next grant application.

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