DADE CITY — Ever since it opened 33 years ago, Jarrett Ford has contributed to the schools in eastern Pasco County.
The dealership takes students in Pasco High and the elementary and middle schools that feed into it who earned all A's for an entire year out to dinner. It provides plaques for the schools' outstanding student citizens.
Most recently, it has used Ford's Drive One For Your School test drive program to funnel more than $50,000 to Pasco and Zephyrhills high schools — becoming the company's top program participant in the country along the way.
"Schools don't have the ability to raise the funds, especially in the last few years, because of the budget," dealership general manager Cliff Martin said. "It's important to give back."
School-business partnerships play an important role for both the businesses and the schools.
Schools get help paying for programs and materials, receive tutoring and other assistance, and even get input while preparing curriculum. Businesses generate goodwill within the communities they serve.
"It's critical, and I think it's very important, that we find the right business partners," said career education director Rob Aguis, who continually looks for firms to support technical programs within the district.
"We need to have the up-to-date and relevant information," he said. "Our business partners provide that."
It's not always easy to get business partners, though.
Many businesses face similar financial struggles as the schools. And in many areas there are numerous schools yet relatively few businesses with the ability to give.
"It's kind of difficult for them to be a partner with two or three different schools," said Hope Schooler, principal of Gulf Trace Elementary in Holiday.
She was thrilled recently to get the backing of Sun Toyota, which opened a location down the street from her campus. Now the school's business partner committee is making plans to seek even more support.
The committee has developed a brochure and will visit businesses to ask for partnerships.
"Hopefully we don't try to hound them too much, but encourage them to be part of the community and help us," Schooler said.
Natalie Brock has worked within Dade City to help coordinate business partnerships for the schools. She said often business owners will plan together so they don't get overextended.
Law firms, civic associations, insurance companies and all sorts of businesses support scholarships, technology and other needs, Brock said. Pasco High's academic booster club helps focus much of the effort, which got going with the backing of the principal and the organization of just a handful of parents.
"You do what you can, because these kids are out there working hard," Brock said.
Rick Lentz, executive vice president of Cutler Associates, agreed completely.
"We're not just here to build a building, collect a check and leave," said Lentz, whose firm recently built Fivay High School in Hudson and is working to reconstruct Richey Elementary School in New Port Richey.
For Fivay, the company donated, among other things, a $3,000 Falcon logo to mount in the courtyard for school spirit.
"It just felt like they needed something there and they never would have gotten it out of the county funds," Lentz said.
For Richey, Cutler is helping pay for a new school playground. It is looking for other opportunities to back the school, too.
"We spend time getting to know their needs," he said. "We try to create a memorable moment."
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at www.tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.