The Polk County School Board’s endorsement of Polk Vision’s leading the Alignment Polk initiative solidified Tuesday when the school board tentatively agreed to provide the vision group office space, moving services and technical support.
That should allay the proposed $100,000 three-year commitment Polk Vision asked for to spearhead the Alignment, said Polk Schools Superintendent Kathryn LeRoy.
The Alignment Polk initiative is a plan to unite the schools with supporting agencies countywide to eliminate duplication of service efforts to improve overall school and student achievement.
Polk Vision representatives earlier this month asked the board for a $100,000 commitment over three years to lead the effort, saying it was a comprehensive extension of activities that agency had been working on since its inception several years ago.
The Alignment Polk offices would be established in the school board’s Jim Miles Professional Center in Highland City, LeRoy explained, and that would allay a big chunk of the expected donation from the board. Some board members earlier had balked at coming up with the money, citing the board’s strained finances.
Board Member Debra Wright had voiced concerns that coming up with $100,000 to kick off the consolidation of services program would take funding from classrooms or teaching.
LeRoy said Tuesday the school system would assist Polk Vision with moving expenses and technical computer system support that could pare the school system contribution to the program by some $20,000 plus. LeRoy also said the board could donate the use of its printing services which could add up to as much as $30,000.
Board member Tim Harris asked LeRoy if the office space would include the entire Polk Vision staff which consists of a director and some part time staff, as well as the employees Polk Alignment would require. LeRoy explained that it would “make more sense to have the Polk Vision and Alignment Polk housed together since their joint goals were so similar.”
Polk Vision presently is located in the United Way offices on U.S. Highway 98 north of Bartow.
“It seems like a lot of money,” said Board Member Hugh Berryman, “But I believe the payback would be for the better over time.”
“I just want to be sure that we don’t use money that we need for academic support,” said Wright. “I’m very protective of any funds that should be going to the classrooms.”
LeRoy said that once Alignment Polk was solidified with a commitment from both the school board and the county commission, it would “reach out to the business community for support.” Polk Vision director Sarah Roberts had told the board earlier that initial indications from the business community “is positive” and “support is expected.”
LeRoy also said that Alignment Nashville, which had dramatically lowered its drop-out rate by the consolidation of resources under one umbrella, had obtained “millions in federal grants and from the Ford Foundation” and believed Alignment Polk could have the same success in garnering support from the private sector.
“We’ve already had some positive discussions with Publix and we feel very positive that when the community learns of the kinds of impacts Alignment Polk may have, we will have the community support we need,” LeRoy said.
Polk Vision also is requesting a similar donation from the Board of County Commissioners, but that commitment had not been finalized at Tuesday’s board session.
Pact with Transit Authority amended
Also on Tuesday, the school board amended its agreement with the Polk Transit Authority to continue providing free rides on its Citrus Connection, Winter Haven Area Transit and PTA buses during the week, but will no longer give students free passes for Saturdays.
The school board last year contracted with the Polk transit agency to allow high school students to ride buses free to get home from after-school events and included free passes for Saturdays as well.
Under the revised contract, the board eliminated the Saturday passes to keep its contract costs at last year’s $53,508.
Students must have parental permission to use the free rides and can still use them countywide, but no longer on weekends.
The Saturday rides end Sept. 1. Students who wish to use the public buses on weekends will have to pay $1.25 for a ride, $2.50 for a day pass or $47 a month for unlimited rides.
PTA had asked the board to fork over another $16,829 to keep the Saturday access, but the board opted to discontinue the weekend rides.
Support Services Director Rob Davis says he doesn’t expect the elimination of Saturday rides will affect student ridership, but is anxious to see how the second year of the plan goes. “I think this was a good service last year, and I think it’s a service that we should continue for these students,” he said.
Last year, according to PTA, the Community of Learning Transportation Service, also known as COLTS, provided 56,270 bus rides. To ride free, students just have to show the driver his or her school ID card and the fee is waived.