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The Polk County School Board voted recently to approve a new K-8 charter school to open in the northeast Polk area in the fall of 2021.

BridgePrep Academy will be located at 2045 Florence Villa Grove Road – north of Interstate 4, east of U.S. 27 and south of U.S. 192.

The 2019 BridgePrep Academy charter review process was controversial in that the original plan was to open a multi-lingual K-8 charter school in south Lakeland.

Most of the Polk County School Board members at the time opposed this plan, requesting that the school be built in northeast Polk, where the demand for more education options was much higher.

Former Polk County School Board member Billy Townsend was very critical of BridgePrep Academy charter application at the time, especially on Twitter. BridgePrep owns multiple charter schools across the state. Townsend suggested the charter school's board was treating the proposal like another new land deal, as opposed to another new school, citing that none of the board members lived in Polk County and the board meetings involving the school would all be taking place outside the county.

School board members Lisa Miller and Sarah Fortney also voted against the original charter school application, which failed in a 3-3 tied board vote on the matter in April 2019.

On May 7, 2019, Florida Charter School Alliance lobbyist Ralph Arza mailed Miller and Fortney letters that both school board members referred to as threatening. The letters read, in part,“When you took an oath of office you swore to uphold the constitution and laws of the State of Florida. Your position of being opposed to charter schools is not a justifiable reason to oppose the BridgePrep application.”

Polk County School Board member Lynn Wilson called the letter “incredibly inappropriate” at the time. Fortney wound up calling the Bartow Police Department to report that she thought Arza was stalking her – an allegation without any documented evidence.

Not long after, there was a school board re-vote on the matter and the board wound up voting to instruct Polk County Superintendent Jacqueline Byrd and her staff to keep working with the BridgePrep board to resolve any differences in a 4-3 vote.

More than two years later, Polk County Public Schools staff were able to work out differences between both boards. Not only is the school being built in northeast Polk, instead of Lakeland, but there will be at least one Polk County resident on the new school's board and at least two of the school's board meetings must take place in Polk County.

Miller thanked PCPS staff for their hard work.

“How this was originated at the very beginning wasn't necessary and it was very unfortunate,” Miller said.

Polk County School Board Chair Lori Cunningham thanked staff for the hard work also.

“We really are going to need that school once it gets up and running,” Cunningham said.

The BridgePrep Academy charter school contract is valid through 2026. The Polk County School Board is scheduled to have a final vote to approve the contract sometime in January 2021.