Hendry pledges $20,000 to start effort, Glades agrees
HENDRY/GLADES COUNTIES — Determination to join in a widely allied effort to provide more job training to Lake Okeechobee region residents at the Glades County Regional Training Facility (GCRTF) coalesced among Glades and Hendry county elected officials who met for a joint workshop Thursday evening, Jan. 11, at the center.
Participants included all but a couple of the 10 county commissioners of Glades and Hendry counties plus two Glades school district representatives, Superintendent Scott Bass and the School Board’s Mike Pressley, along with other interested local officials. They talked for 90 minutes about how they could get more training under way at the center and thus better utilize the $5 million building. At present, it is empty much of the time and providing a home only for a few Glades County School District and privately run courses. For its use of the facility, the district spends over $25,000 a year, which lets the county pay for utilities and keep the place as clean and ready for use as when it was built a few years back.
Glades County Manager Paul Carlisle first gave an overview of how the GCRTF came to exist, noting that although the state financed construction at around $4 million, no further state funds for staff or programs has been forthcoming since. Glades contributed about $1 million altogether to finish the facility, provide a large parking lot and extend utilities to the site, which is centrally located to both counties at U.S. 27 and State Road 78, next to the Glades County Sheriff’s Office.
Money to run educational programs at GCRTF, however, has fallen through because the three original partner state colleges — Polk County, Palm Beach County and Southwest Florida — which pledged to support programs there instead decided to use their vocational school financing at their own campuses, Mr. Carlisle said.
The group arrived at several points of consensus:
• That the facility first needs a director or coordinator to get all the various players with a stake in workforce development to assist in establishing job training and retraining programs there. That duty has fallen to Mr. Carlisle, who said, “I’m not that person,” explaining that it’s not his forte.
Hendry Commissioner Karson Turner said he would push for his county to contribute $20,000 toward financing a director to get the ball rolling, and the other three Hendry commissioners present seemed to agree.
When Glades County Manager Carlisle asked the four commissioners present whether they wanted him to find money to contribute, they also responded positively.
• The two counties, and any others that the steering committee can entice to become involved, must lobby their state legislators to acquire ongoing financing for administration of programs to be based at the GCRTF. But Hendry Commissioner Michael Swindle noted that a Local Education Agency would have to be designated, or formed, to administer any state educational funding. Others pointed out that a memorandum of understanding between Glades County and the school district to govern a director and future operations of the training center probably would suffice.
Mr. Turner said that the Glades Education Foundation, whose representative Laura Perry was present, possibly could act in that capacity.
Several officials also noted that there are bills in the 2018 legislative process already that mention financing for education in rural areas and that lawmakers need to be made aware of the needs in Glades and Hendry counties.
• A study needs to be done of regional companies’ and industries’ workforce needs, local worker categories in which job numbers are growing and what types of training already are being offered in the area so officials can plan for courses that would draw the needed number of students to support them.
• An overall business plan may need to be formulated for the center in order to show legislators that local officials are striving to develop more training at GCRTF that will need additional funding from the state.
• The two counties’ boards need to meet again in March after the legislative session to assess what progress has been made and what more could be done.