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Bronson to compete in
the Youth Baseball Nationals;

           >>> Car wash on Saturday <<<

Bronson Basball Players and Coaches 12 and younger
The All-Star team from Bronson is led by Head Coach Jeff Jordan. Also on the coaching staff are assistant coaches -- the Rev. Mark Stiles of Bronson United Methodist Church, Chad Thompson and Berlon Weeks. Players on this team are Seth Haley, Caleb Kellum, Jeremiah Linley, Zachary McClelland, Jeythian Merced, Tristen O’Neal, Cian Ronaldo, David Runion, Kevin Runion, William Six, Blake Taylor and Kasey Weeks. Also playing during the regular season on the team were Noah Gray, Rico Mitchem and Daniel Vega.
Photo Provided by Head Coach Jeff Jordan and Assistant Coach Berlon Weeks

By Jeff M. Hardison © May 21, 2018 at 9:38 p.m.
     BRONSON --
The 12-year-old and younger team of a dozen or so baseball players, a head coach and a few assistant coaches have earned a chance to compete at a national level.


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Attorney Sunshine Baynard

     There is a car wash set for Saturday (May 26) starting at 9 a.m. at the Bronson Ace Hardware on the corner of Hathaway Avenue (U.S. Alt. 27) and Thrasher Drive (State Road 24) as a fundraiser for the team.
     This car wash is part of the various methods to generate the $3,400 that is needed for the Bronson Parks and Recreation team to go to Sanford (Seminole County) from June 29 to July 5.
     The All-Star team from Bronson is led by Head Coach Jeff Jordan. Also on the coaching staff are assistant coaches -- the Rev. Mark Stiles of Bronson United Methodist Church, Chad Thompson and Berlon Weeks.
      Players on this team are Seth Haley, Caleb Kellum, Jeremiah Linley, Zachary McClelland, Jeythian Merced, Tristen O’Neal, Cian Ronaldo, David Runion, Kevin Runion, William Six, Blake Taylor and Kasey Weeks. Also playing during the regular season on the team were Noah Gray, Rico Mitchem and Daniel Vega.
     This team is one of three from Florida that is competing. There are also three teams each from California, Texas and Louisiana to make the 12-team tournament.
     The weeklong competition in Sanford is at the Boombah Sports Complex in Seminole County.
     On Monday night (May 21), Pastor Stiles approached the Bronson Town Council.
     He said this allstar team made up of the players from the Bronson Parks and Recreation Department just completed their regular season with a record of 21-2 and are now going to a long-awaited tournament championship.
     Stiles said the coaches and players have two requests.
     First, the team would like to be able use the catchers’ gear that they used during the regular season, until after the tournament which will finish -- on July 5.
     The second request is that the town would donate whatever it can to help offset the $3,400 needed to send these boys to Bronson’s first national tournament.
       The assistant coach and Methodist pastor reminded all listeners of the car wash at Bronson Ace Hardware on Saturday.

Some candidates reelected
without opposition;

County election qualifying
set for June 18-22

By Jeff M. Hardison © May 21, 2018 at 4:48 p.m.
County court judges in Levy County, Dixie County and Gilchrist County and some circuit judges in the Eighth Judicial Circuit and the Third Judicial Circuit are finished with their races for reelection, according to records.
     Qualifying for county constitutional offices runs from noon on June 18 until noon on June 22. As of noon today (May 21) the petition method to qualify is finished. Candidates for county offices, however, can pay 4 percent of one year’s salary to run as a No Party Affiliation or 6 percent of one year’s salary to run as a Democrat, Republican or other party affiliation.

     Levy County Court Judge J.T. “Tim” Browning was reelected without opposition.
     Gilchrist County Court Judge Sheree H. Lancaster was reelected without opposition.
     Dixie County Court Judge Jennifer J. Johnson has a term that did not call for her seeking reelection this year. She has served the people as a judge in her seat on the bench since January of 2015, according to records.
     The Tri-County Area of Levy, Dixie and Gilchrist counties includes two of Florida’s 20 judicial circuits.
     Dixie County is in the Third Judicial Circuit. Third Judicial Circuit Court Judge Melissa Gates Olin, Third Judicial Circuit Court Judge David W. Fina, and Third Judicial Circuit Court Judge Wes Douglas were all elected because they were unopposed. The Third Judicial Circuit is comprised of Columbia, Dixie, Hamilton, Lafayette, Madison, Suwannee and Taylor counties.
     In the Eighth Judicial Circuit, which includes Alachua, Baker, Bradford, Gilchrist, Levy, and Union counties, Eighth Judicial Circuit Court Judge Denise R. Ferrero, Eighth Judicial Circuit Court Judge Stanley “Stan” H. Griffis III and Eighth Judicial Circuit Court Judge Susanne Wilson Bullard were all reelected without opposition.
     Three candidates are seeking to fill one Eighth Judicial Circuit Court judge seat. Those candidates are David Robertson (NOP), Julie Waldman (NOP) and Gloria Walker (NOP).
     Candidates to be a Justice on the Florida District Court of Appeal, District 1, are Harvey Jay III (NOP), Stephanie Ray (NOP), Brad Thomas (NOP), Kemmerly Thomas (NOP) and Allen Winsor (NOP).
     Supreme Court Justice Alan Lawson was reelected without opposition.

     In Levy County, there are races for two County Commission seats and three School Board seats.
     Seeking reelection to Levy County Commission, District 2, is County Commissioner Rock Meeks (Rep.). So far, his only announced opponent is Terance Reed (Rep.).
     If no Democrat qualifies, then either Meeks or Reed will be the winner after the primary election on Aug. 28. Also, if no Democrat qualifies for this race, then people who are registered Democrats will see these two names on the Democratic Party primary ballot and they can choose between these two.
     As a reminder, though, any voter can choose to not mark a choice in every race.
     Seeking reelection to Levy County Commission, District 4, is County Commissioner Lilly Rooks (Rep.). So far, her only announced opponent is Ryan Bell (Rep.). And just like in the other Levy County Commission race, if no Democrat qualifies, then that race will be decided Aug. 28.
     There are three Levy Cunty School Board seats open. The three incumbents are Cameron Asbell, District 1; Brad Etheridge, District 3; and Rick Turner, District 5.

     Qualifying for county constitutional offices in Dixie County runs from noon on June 18 until noon on June 22. As of noon today (May 21) the petition method to qualify is finished. Candidates for county offices, however, can pay 4 percent of one year’s salary to run as a No Party Affiliation or 6 percent of one year’s salary to run as a Democrat, Republican or other party affiliation.
     In Dixie County there are races for two County Commission seats and three School Board seats.
     Seeking reelection to Dixie County Commission, District 2, is W.C. Mills Jr. (NPA). Most candidates in Dixie County now, Dixie County Supervisor of Elections Starlet Cannon said, are running as No Party Affiliation.
     The Dixie County Commission District 4 incumbent chose against seeking reelection. The two announced candidates so far are Jamie Storey (NPA) and John L. Driggers Jr. (NPA).
     Incumbent Dixie County School Board, District 2, Member Charles “Chuck” Farmer is seeking reelection, and so far, no person has announced publicly his or her intent to seek that seat other than Farmer.
     Incumbent Dixie County School Board, District 3, Member Paul Gainey is seeking reelection, and thus far no person has announced publicly his or her intent to seek that seat other than Farmer.
     The incumbent Dixie County School Board District 5 member is not seeking reelection. The two people who have announced their intent to seek that seat thus far are Tammy Nicole Bryan, and Lacey Mathis Corbin.

     Qualifying for county constitutional offices in Gilchrist County runs from noon on June 18 until noon on June 22. As of noon today (May 21) the petition method to qualify is finished. Candidates for county offices, however, can pay 4 percent of one year’s salary to run as a No Party Affiliation or 6 percent of one year’s salary to run as a Democrat, Republican or other party affiliation.
     In Gilchrist County there are races for two County Commission seats and three School Board seats.
     The incumbent for Gilchrist County Commission, District 2, chose against seeking reelection. There are four Republicans in Gilchrist County who want that seat. They are Robert B. Clemons (Rep.), William M. Martin (Rep.), Richard L. Fuller (Rep.) and John Yencho (Rep.).
     County Commissioner, District 4 incumbent Marion Poitevant (Rep.) has announced an intent to seek reelection. No other candidate thus far has noted their intent to run for that seat.
     Gilchrist County School Board members who are incumbents in the three districts are the only announced candidates for those three seats so far. They are
* Christie Lynn McElroy (NP), District 1; Frances Michelle Walker Crawford (NP), District 3; and D. Deen Lancaster (NP), District 5.
     Florida House of Representatives, District 21, Member Charles Wesley “Chuck” Clemons Sr. (Rep.) has announced his intention to seek reelection. So far, he is the only Republican seeking this seat. Therefore, he has won the Republican primary.
     On Aug. 28, registered Democrats in District 21 will have a choice between Jason Haeseler (Dem.) and Shreyas Amol Kumar Jethwani (Dem.). Then it will be either Haeseler or Jethwani against Clemons in the Nov. 6 general election. District 21 includes all of Dixie and Gilchrist counties and the western part of Alachua County.
     Florida House of Representatives, District 22, Member Charlie Stone (Rep.) has announced his intention to seek reelection. Brigette Smith (Rep.) is a Republican whom he will face. The winner of that race in August will be running against Bernard Parker (Dem.) in the general election on Nov. 6. District 22 includes all of Levy County and the western part of Marion County.
     The field of announced potential candidates for governor, attorney general, chief financial officer and commissioner of agriculture is currently rather extensive.

     The federal races where voters in Levy, Dixie and Gilchrist counties can vote are for United States senator, and for United States House of Representatives, District 2.
     In the race for U.S. Senate, incumbent Bill Nelson (Dem.) has won the Democratic primary. Roque “Rocky” De La Fuente (Rep.) and Rick Scott (Rep.) are Republican contenders in the primary race for that party. Other candidates for United States Senate, Florida, are Lateresa Jones (WRI), Howard Knepper (WRI), Michael S. Levinson, Charles Frederick Tolbert (WRI) and
David Weeks (WRI).
     Incumbent Rep. Neal Dunn (Rep.) is the Republican in the race for United States Representative, District 2.
     Brandon Peters (Dem.) and Bob Rackleff (Dem.) are the qualified Democrats who are competing with each other in the primary and then either Peters or Rackleff will face Dunn in the general election.

AmVets Chapter 422 Riders
Donate $5,000 For
Camp Valor Project

Seen here standing at the event on Saturday (May 19) are (from left) Cavanah of For Vets Inc., and Bill Wiggins and Lee Layne, AmVets Riders Chapter 422. On Saturday (May 19), AmVets Suwannee River Riders Chapter 422 presented a check for $5,000 to For Vets Inc. for the Camp Valor Project. The Groundbreaking Ceremony was held that day in Otter Springs Park and Campground in Gilchrist County. The money presented by the Riders from the AmVets Riders Chapter 422 Poker Run and Raffle that was held on March 3. The Riders say ‘Thank You!’ to all the riders who participated in the Run. The AmVets Suwannee River Riders Chapter 422 also expressed their gratitude to all of the individuals in the local community for their generous donations and all the local businesses who so generously donated prizes for the raffles. Present for the donation of the check on Saturday were Past President Bill Wiggins, President Pat Plemmons, Secretary Toni Plemmons, Treasurer Lee Layne, Judge Advocate Kenny Spillers, and Riders members Bill Dampier, Wendy Luzader, Allen Luzader and Larry Foland.
Published May 20, 2018 at 7:38 a.m.

Photo and Information Provided by AmVets Suwannee River Riders Chapter 422


4th Annual Bronson Blueberry
Festival livens up
the 'Heart of Levy County'

Welcome to James H. Cobb Park and the 4th Annual Bronson Blueberry Festival. Seen here (from left) Bronson Fire Chief Dennis Russell, real estate salesman Tommy Harrington and Bronson Town Councilwoman Katie Parks visit with one another.

Story and Photos
By Jeff M. Hardison © May 19, 2018 at 3:28 p.m.
     BRONSON –
Even though Friday brought thunderstorms and torrential rain to the Tri-County Area, Saturday (May 19) was a good day to be in the parks of North Central Florida.

The bounce house was a big attraction for children visiting the event.

Levy County Clerk of Court Danny Shipp was on hand to greet people and tell all about the services he and his staff members provide.

Among the various vendors selling blueberries at this festival is (from left) Donna Hulett, Seth Hulett Sr. and Tina Hulett. Donna Hulett said her husband the late Bart Hulett started the blueberry crop in the 1980s. The Hulett family owns Wekiva Road Nursery and Wekiva Blueberry Farm, where they sell blueberries, blueberry plants, ornamentals, native plants, trees and aquatics.

Levy County Supervisor of Elections Tammy Jones was present to help voters revise their information, change parties and the like. She also was there to register Levy County residents who want to vote.

Among the many food and drink salespeople at the festival was Robert Arnold, who with his wife Lynda Arnold (not pictured) own the Bayou Bill concession seen here. This is New Orleans style of shaved ice. Another person with a couple of tents of delectable carney types of treats was Tom’s Kettle Korn, and he was selling lemonade as well as other drinks too.

Roxanne Conn and Michael Conn of Trenton man their tent as sellers of Archangel Pastries. These homemade baked treats were among the many items for sale by several vendors. Other selling entities and people provided products and services included Bronson United Methodist Church’s Thrift Store; Wayne’s Wood (handmade wooden items); Episcopal Children’s Services; Paparazzi Jewelry; Thrive (all-natural mind clarity and weight management) by Erica Holt of Bronson; Stephanie Wachter of Newberry who was selling crochet rag rugs and crafty critters; and Scooooder Stones - natural stone designs from Bronson.

Bronson Elementary School Principal Michael Homan (left) stands next to Gloria Walker, a candidate for Eighth Judicial Circuit Court Judge. Julie Waldman, another of the three contenders for the one judge seat, had a person at the event too. Walker mentioned that she has 15 years of experience in the state and federal courts as well as in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Levy County Department of Public Safety EMT J. Matchett (left) stands with County Commissioner Rock Meeks at the blueberry festival. Matchett and LCDPS EMT M. Fowler were manning the tent to speak especially with children about fire safety. Other tents being manned by vendors included Trigger Happy Designs, where Pam Owens of Gulf Hammock was showing her jewelry made from bullet shells and shotgun shells; Cedar Key Scrubs, where Emily Colson and Stephanie Beckham were showing people all of the excellent locally made products that they have; Johnny and Sue Mitchell of Newberry were serving roasted corn; Angelle Raines of Bronson was providing people with Mary Kay brand of items; and representatives of Mount Dora Wild Blueberry Honey – Just Country Farms of Spring Hill (owned by Ken Kircker) were selling honey; and Nathan Comstock of Comstock Nursery was prepared to help people meet their plant needs.

Blake O’Neal a technician with Likwid Communications stands near one of the vehicles that group had in the parking lot. Fiber-optic Internet connections through Likwid have not come to fruition yet in Levy County, although the service continues strong in Citrus County.

     On Saturday, some people went to Gilchrist County for the groundbreaking of Camp Valor at Otter Springs Park and Campground.
     Some people went to the Newberry Watermelon Festival in Alachua County.
     And some people went to the James H. Cobb Park in Bronson.
     The Annual Bronson Blueberry Festival in the Heart of Levy County proved to be another successful event where Bronson Town Councilwoman Katie Parks serves as the chair for events.
     "It's a beautiful day," Parks said as she spoke with Bronson Fire Chief Dennis Russell and real estate salesman Tommy Harrington of Century 21 Dianne Chewning & Associates of Old Town. "The sun is out and it's a great day for a blueberry festival. I've been praying all week to God for good weather for the festival."
     It was held in the park named for the man who died in the line of duty as a town worker, when heat stroke led to his death. The park is also known as the Bronson Youth Complex.
     Publicity for the blueberry event was a bit shy in contrast with the past few years, Councilwoman Parks explained, because former Deputy Town Clerk Susie Robinson has left the city's staff. Therefore, town staff members have been even more pressed than usual to keep the regular town operations flowing as normal, not to mention the added work from a festival.
    A parade and pageant traditionally have been part of the blueberry fest events in Bronson in past years too.
     Parks sees hope to fill that deputy town clerk vacancy in the near future, and then when the town holds events there is a stronger likelihood of letting more people know via information released to the press.
     Even without a lot of publicity, and despite the previous day of weather that was not good for an outdoor activity, many people on Saturday drove to Bronson to enjoy the blueberries, bounce house, music, food, crafts and political pitches from people seeking election or reelection.
     As in the previous three years, a good time was had by all.

Inglis man arrested
for Ocala bank robbery

Jason Earl Hill

Mug Shot By Citrus County Sheriff's Office
By Valerie Strong
Public Information Officer
Marion County Sheriff’s Office
Published May 18, 2018 at 12:08 p.m.
On Wednesday (May 16) Marion County Sheriff’s Office Major Crimes detectives arrested Jason Earl Hill, 52, of Inglis for the robbery of the Harbor Community Bank (located at 8290 S.W. College Road in Ocala) that occurred on Friday, May 11.
     Hill adds this robbery to his extensive criminal record. He had previously served time in federal prison for several bank robberies he committed in New Mexico in 1997.
      Last Friday, May 11, a male suspect, later identified as Hill, entered the bank and passed a note to a clerk demanding money without displaying or implying that he had a weapon.
     Hill robbed the bank of United States currency and he left the business in what appeared to be a 2005-2007 green Saturn Vue. Detectives conducted a search of this vehicle in Marion and surrounding counties and discovered a 2006 Saturn Vue registered to a Jason Hill in Citrus County.
     Upon looking at his driver’s license photo, detectives noticed that Hill strongly resembled the suspect seen in the bank’s surveillance video. Detectives made contact with Hill at his home address in Citrus County and he agreed to do an interview with them.
     Hill would not admit to committing the bank robbery, but he told detectives how he would have done it. Hill also told detectives that he had spent time in federal prison for committing several bank robberies in the past. Upon review of his criminal history, it was found that Hill was charged with three counts of Bank Robbery in New Mexico in 1997 and was released from federal prison in 2014.
     One of the bank clerks who was robbed positively identified Hill as the man who robbed the Harbor Community Bank on May 11.  Hill has been charged with one count of Robbery - No Firearm or Weapon and is currently being held in the Citrus County Jail on no bond.

Levy Clerks Back The Blue
Levy County Clerks Back The Blue
All of the clerks from the office of Levy County Clerk Danny Shipp participated in a fundraiser for the fallen deputies in Gilchrist County. They are captured here in a photo with their tee-shirts. On the back of the shirts it says 'A HERO REMEMBERED NEVER REALLY DIES.' This is also National Police Week (May 13-19). All the clerks participated in the fundraiser. Levy Clerks are proud to support all Law Enforcement. Seen here are (starting in back then from left to right) Jared Blanton, Judy Marino, Ilene Polo, ChaRue Sandlin, Denise Fowler, Deanna Dobbins, Schonna McLean, Patti Pendarvis , Melinda Bass, Kay Holcomb, Melissa Allen, Ashley Giffen, Chanda Jordan, Ursula Williams, Ashley Swilley, Lacee Lane, Abbey Fallender, Mandy Waters, Glenda McGee, Sandy Haddock, Donna Cicale, Faith Southard, Brandy Weldon, Laquanda Latson, Hope Gibson and Wayne Williams. Also on Tuesday (May 15), the Williston Police Department and Levy County Sheriff's Office conducted a memorial service to honor a WPD officer and an LCSO deputy who both died in the line of duty.
Published May 15, 2018 at 9:08 p.m.

Photo and Information Provided By
Levy County Clerk of Court Chief Deputy-Court Director Deanna Dobbins


People petition
to retain CKS principal

By Jeff M. Hardison © May 12, 2018 at 4:28 p.m.
     BRONSON –
Sue Colson, a member of the Cedar Key City Council, used the very limited time allowed by the Levy County School Board of Tuesday night (May 8) to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
     In fact, she used her whole five minutes to speak about one issue. Colson believes Levy County Superintendent of Schools Jeff Edison plans to remove Cedar Key School Principal Joshua Slemp from CKS to put him at another school.
     Colson arrived Tuesday night armed with 162 letters of support; however, just before entering the School Board District office at 480 Marshburn Drive in Bronson, she was greeted by a person who gave her another 30 letters that are attempting to show Superintendent of Schools Edison that the people want to keep the principal at that school.
     Some of the letters were form letters, Colson said, however all of the letters show the school district administrator that the people have well-founded thought out, logical reasons for keeping this principal at this school. Among the concerns Colson expressed after the meeting are that there are several significant projects which started during the Slemp administration and the parents in Cedar Key are concerned that the next principal – if it is someone other than Slemp – will not keep the momentum of these projects going.
     On Monday (May 7), Edison spoke on the telephone about the potential of Colson making a public statement to support keeping Slemp as the CKS principal next year, after Edison was contacted by about this issue.
     Superintendent Edison explained that it is his job to make personnel decisions regarding all of the 900 employees of the Levy County School District.
     Between now and June 1, the school superintendent said he intends to have decided placement for the various principals in Levy County. As for whether Principal Slemp will remain at CKS, Edison was non-committal. He mentioned, too, that he sees the schools’ staff members as being “family.”
     Using the family metaphor, Edison said he intends to inform various members of the “family” about any changes regarding personnel, before those announcements are placed “on Facebook” or in the press or anywhere else for the general public.
     In his process of deciding which administrators are to serve at which institutions within the school district, Edison said he takes a holistic approach, where he considers and evaluates every aspect of the district to arrive at what he believes is best for the whole district.
     Sometimes people leave the school district, he said. As far as him deciding all of the principals’ placements by June 1, Edison added, that is not a hard and fast date, but it is normally the time when the decisions are completed.
     Colson, on Friday (May 11), shared a breakdown of some of the people who provided letters for their support of keeping Principal Slemp at CKS.
     Colson said that Mayor Heath Davis and City Councilwoman Susan Rosenthal were among the people who supported keeping Principal Slemp. Cedar Key Police Chief Virgil Sandlin and Cedar Key Fire Chief Robert Robinson provided letters as well, Colson said.
     As a partial breakdown, Colson noted that at least 71 parents of CKS students, and at least 28 grandparents provided those letters of support. There were at least 105 registered Levy County voters who sent those letters, Colson said. Agencies, clubs and 46 individuals with vested interests sent letters of support as well.
     Colson said she shared a thought with Superintendent Edison and the four School Board members present that night. School Board Chairman Cameron Asbell was absent. Present were School Board Vice Chairman Brad Etheridge, and School Board members Paige Brookins, Chris Cowart and Rick Turner.
     The School Board members are not the people who determine personnel matters. The School Board primarily deals with policy and budget matters.
     In conversations with School Board members, Colson said, she has heard that sometimes it takes a new school superintendent a year to be properly versed in what all he or she must do. The elected term of the school superintendent is for four years, she added.
     Why not then allow a principal that first year to get his or her feet on the ground, and then let him or her have a four-year term as principal at a school?
     Colson said neither Edison nor any of the four School Board members present commented about her presentation other than to thank her for her input.
     CKS Principal Slemp is one of the 900 employees who may serve in the same capacity next fall as he served this past school year, and of course, he may be somewhere else.
     As for Colson and the 100 or so people who provided input on this matter to Superintendent Edison, the people have that right (and other rights) as guaranteed by the United States Constitution and its amendments. This right is part of The First Amendment, which notes “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
     While some freedom-oriented thinkers may think the five-minute, or three-minute limit to address government bodies is a rule that infringes on this freedom “to petition the government for a redress of grievances,” apparently time limits have been upheld before, because federal, state, regional, county, and city government leaders cut off the public after the speakers hit the time limit quite often. The City Council in St. Petersburg had, and may still have, a countdown clock facing the audience and it began, and may still begin, its countdown to zero starting at the second a person starts speaking at the podium.
     Williston City Council President Nancy Wininger said she intends to hold speakers to the limit when they address that august municipal body.
     The person who called “Time!” on Colson on Tuesday night was School Board Attorney David Delaney of Gainesville, she said. Colson added in her interview with Friday that she asked if she could speak a few more minutes, perhaps by using some minutes from people who had come with her with the purpose in mind being to create a public record of the people of Cedar Key approaching the school superintendent to allow CKS to retain the principal who was serving there now.

Quality early education
programs are available

After an April 25 interview, some of the staff members from the Early Learning Coalition of the Nature Coast’s main office in Crystal River and the office in Chiefland are seen in front of the Chiefland office. They are (from left) Director of Eligibility Tonya Hiers, Quality Assurance Coordinator Brooke Ward, Eligibility Specialist Laticia Coleman, Director of Finance Desirae Rickman, Executive Assistant Sheri Ellis, Staff Assistant Krystal ‘Kryssy’ Ramos, and Eligibility Coordinator Amanda Newbern. They are standing in front of the Chiefland office, which is located at 117 N.E. First St. The office in Crystal River is at 382 N Suncoast Blvd., and the office in Sumterville is located at 617 S US Hwy. 301, Suite E.

Story and Photo
By Jeff M. Hardison
© May 7, 2018 at 4:28 p.m.
The Early Learning Coalition of the Nature Coast helps prepare children for school in five counties -- Citrus, Dixie, Gilchrist, Levy, and Sumter counties.
     Like its counterparts across Florida, this coalition offers two programs – the School Readiness Program and the Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten Program.
     Sonya Bosanko is the executive director of this coalition.
     The vision of this group notes that “All children will have access to quality early education and care, and enter school ready to learn.”
     The mission of this group nots that “The Coalition will collaborate with parents to integrate a system of services and facilitate quality early education programs that include linkages to all areas of child development.”
     The Early Learning Coalition of the Nature Coast was established following the enactment of Florida Statute 411.01 and HB 1A that establishes Florida's Office of Early Learning and local early learning coalitions.
     The Florida Legislature recognized that "school readiness programs increase children's chances of achieving future educational success and becoming productive members of society." The Legislature intends for the local early learning coalitions to establish programs and policies to prepare Florida's youngest residents for success in school. The Early Learning Coalition of the Nature Coast operates the School Readiness Program and the Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten Program in Citrus, Dixie, Gilchrist, Levy, and Sumter counties.
     The Coalition has established a Board of Directors representing all five counties served. This Board brings together the primary agencies in this area that work with children, including the Florida Department of Children and Families, the local county school boards, Head Start programs, the CareerSource Boards, the Boards of County Commissioners, the College of Central Florida, child care provider representatives, and the private business sector.

     Low-income families in Florida with parents who are trying to work or to obtain training may be eligible for the School Readiness Program (SRP). The SRP offers financial assistance to low-income families for early child education. This program also provides assistance for childcare, so that those families can become financially self-sufficient, and their young children can be successful in school in the future.
     This is especially helpful to families that cannot afford the full price of daycare. Fees are based on a sliding scale, depending on the family’s level of income. Depending on the parents’ work schedules will determine when during the day or night that childcare is provided at a discounted rate.
     Services vary depending on the individual needs. These services range from extended day to extended year, and school-age care in some instances.
     The SRP takes into account the child’s physical, social, emotional and intellectual development. It involves the parents being the child’s first teacher and prepares children to be ready for school. It gives parents information about child development and other topics of interest.
     In the five counties, there are approximately 200 children from the ages of birth through school age (12 years old), Nature Coast Early Learning Coalition Director of Eligibility Tonya Hiers said on April 25. Hiers said the children who move from the waiting list to the active list in the SRP are determined by state rules for priorities. Those School Readiness Eligibility Priorities are shown below, as noted from the Florida Office of Early Learning:
     During the 2013 session, the Florida Legislature passed early learning legislation requiring coalitions to use the following eligibility priority criteria for families applying for school readiness services.
     Children younger than age 13 whose parents receive temporary cash assistance and are subject to federal work requirements.
At-risk children younger than age 9.
     Economically disadvantaged children until eligible to enter kindergarten. Their older siblings up to the age they are eligible to enter 6th grade may also be served.
     Children from birth to kindergarten whose parents are transitioning from the temporary cash assistance work program to employment.
     At-risk children who are at least age 9 but younger than 13. Those with siblings in priority groups 1-3 are higher priority than other children ages 9-13 in this priority group.
     Economically disadvantaged children younger than 13. Priority in this category is given to children who have a younger sibling in the School Readiness Program under priority 3.
     Children younger than 13 whose parents are transitioning from the temporary cash assistance work program to employment.
     Children who have special needs and current individual educational plans from age 3 until they are eligible to enter kindergarten.
     Children concurrently enrolled in the federal Head Start Program and VPK.

     The Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten Program (VPK) has a total budget of almost $4.3 million for this coalition this year, according to records.
     The VPK program is free to all people of any income level. It is for children who turned 4 years old on or before September 1 of the year when they would enroll, Hiers said.
     This is basically the year before they are eligible for kindergarten, she added.
     There is no waiting list for VPK. It is an entitlement for all children of the proper age, Hiers said. If there is room for the children at the providers of this service within the five counties’ school districts, then parents can enroll their children there, she said.
     All five counties’ school districts contract with the Nature Coast Early Learning Coalition to receive this service via various vendors, which includes some schools as well as private not-for-profit and private for-profit pre-school enterprises.
     Parents choose where their children will attend VPK, Hiers said. Parents apply through the coalition to receive their eligibility certificate. Once the parents have that certificate, she said, the parent can take that certificate to the eligible provider of their choice. For instance, if a parent lives in Sumter County but works in Levy County, then they may choose to use a service provider in Levy County and that is allowed, Hiers said.
     However, Hiers said, if a Levy County parent wants to use an Alachua County provider, then he or she must apply through the coalition that serves Alachua County. The Nature Coast Early Learning Coalition serves parents in Citrus, Dixie, Gilchrist, Levy, and Sumter counties. There are 31 coalitions that serve the people in Florida’s 67 counties, and one separate district.

     In the five counties as of April 25, Director of Finance Desirae Rickman said, there were 128 School Readiness and VPK Providers. Broken down by county, they are:
     * Citrus: 49 School Readiness – 41 VPK
     * Dixie: 3 School Readiness – 4 VPK (There is 1 School Readiness provider, and 3 VPK providers, please note that 2 of the 3 VPK providers are schools within the school district.)
     * Gilchrist: 5 School Readiness – 5 VPK
     * Levy: 10 School Readiness – 15 VPK
     * Sumter: 17 School Readiness – 15 VPK

The Direct Services (Child Care) Budget for School Readiness is: $6,391,549. Broken down by county:
     * Citrus: $2,540,354
     * Dixie: $134,668
     * Gilchrist: $457,519
     * Levy: $1,299,378
     * Sumter: $1,959,630

     For more information about the Early Learning Coalition of the Nature Coast, the website is
     As a starting point for any family interested in participating in SRP or VPK, click HERE.

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101st Jingle Performer

Erick McDonald sings the Jingle on March 27, 2018 in front of the car dealership where Jeff M. Hardison bought the most recent newsmobile for the daily news website. Each performer or set of performers brings his or her, or their (when it is two or more performers) own special something to the jingle. If you see Jeff Hardison and you want to sing the jingle, just let him know or send an email to He asks people to sing it, too, and some of them agree to sing it. (Thanks people!)
Published March 27, 2018 at 11:38 p.m.

© Video by Jeff M. Hardison, All Rights Reserved

Your weather just got better.

WEDNESDAY  MAY 23  6:58 a.m.
Levy, Dixie and Gilchrist counties

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