The nonprofit agency that oversees day care programs for low-income families in Pasco and Hernando opened three new offices Monday to give residents better access to services.
The Early Learning Coalition of Pasco and Hernando Counties oversees Florida's Voluntary Prekindergarten, or VPK, program, which is open to all children regardless of household income. It also provides subsidized child care programs that give assistance for low-to-moderate income working families by paying a portion of the child care costs on a sliding fee scale.
The coalition opened its new locations in New Port Richey, Dade City and Brooksville as part of its move to take over services that had been supplied by the private firm Childhood Development Services.
The Ocala-based agency, called CDS, had won the $25 million contract several years ago in a political battle after two agencies that served Pasco and Hernando separately were required to merge as part of state-mandated cost-cutting.
Some day care operators complained that CDS services were not as comprehensive as those provided by the previous firm, New Port Richey's Youth and Family Alternatives. Unlike YFA, CDS did not have an office in East Pasco, home to migrant workers and many of the county's neediest residents. The agency did have a staffer available part time to handle appointments.
The situation was unacceptable to Jim Farrelly, a retired New Jersey educator who took over as the coalition's executive director in 2008. With board approval, he gradually consolidated services in-house and ended the arrangement with CDS.
He says the move will save the coalition $500,000 a year, which will go toward the needs of children and families.
"This final step in the transition process to in-house services will assure a consistent level of care and high-quality services for the families of Pasco and Hernando counties," he said. "At the same time, all funds saved will be spent on children and families."
Farrelly said he didn't realize until he moved to the area just how great the distance is between east and west Pasco.
"It's quite a haul," he said. "And I have my car. A lot of the people we serve rely on public transportation."