SPRING HILL — The agency that oversees preschool programs in Pasco and Hernando counties Thursday approved a $26.3-million overall budget, about $387,000 less than last year — but with three new positions.
Jim Farrelly, executive director of the Pasco Hernando Early Learning Coalition, said it represents about $248,000 less for slots for kids — about 85 spots — but that the new positions were needed. The state allows coalitions to spend 5 percent on administration; the added positions leave the agency below that threshold.
"We were particularly lean," he said.
The agency was largely shielded from state budget cuts earlier this year thanks to state Sen. Mike Fasano, whom coalition members honored in June.
The jobs include one for a specialist who helps day care providers deal with special-needs children and another for a bookkeeper to help the fiscal manager. A third position will be devoted to human resources and public relations.
The agency's board also approved two positions that will go unfilled until vehicles can be obtained. They include a mobile outreach specialist to drive a second "toy van" and another to drive a motor home.
Farrelly hopes the agency can somehow get a motor home to go to areas where families lack transportation and register children. He also hopes to use it as a mobile classroom that visits areas regularly to provide preschool services to children who otherwise would not have access to them.
"We may have some hurdles but this is what we say we're going to try to do," Farrelly said.
In other business, the board also expressed its commitment to getting an increase in the rate the state pays child care providers, who have not had one in about a decade.
If that fails, board members may consider granting them one-time bonuses at the end of the fiscal year if money is available.
Lisa Buie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4604.