Change is coming again to the state's oldest reform school, a place with such a long and ugly history some say it can never be fixed.
Most significant for hundreds of men who were abused at the school over the decades, the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys will shed the name of its former superintendent. Dozier has been named by several men as one of the former staffers who wielded a leather strap and beat boys bloody in the 1950s and '60s.
"Arthur G. Dozier does not need to be honored for what he did to the children of Florida,'' said Roger Kiser of Brunswick, Ga., who is 64 and still tormented by memories of being beaten.
The name change is just one of the fixes being proposed at a place some insist should be closed altogether. The school was the subject of a St. Petersburg Times investigation, "For their own good," which detailed a century of abuse and neglect and showed that in 2009 the school still broke bones and bloodied noses of boys in its care. The school failed an annual state evaluation twice in recent years and has scrambled to improve with a new superintendent and revamped procedures.
Now faced with budget cuts, the Department of Juvenile Justice plans to consolidate the school with the adjacent juvenile correction center, creating a smaller facility that can better serve boys with special medical and behavioral needs.
Darryl Olson, assistant secretary for residential services, outlined the changes, which he said will shave about $2.5 million annually from the school's $17 million budget.
• The school will merge administration, medical care and food service with the adjacent Jackson Juvenile Offender Correction Center, which serves the worst offenders. The complex will be called the North Florida Youth Development Center.
• The capacity of the school will be cut to 151 beds from 199. All 32 juvenile sex offenders will be relocated to other facilities starting next week.
• Sixty-four staff positions will be eliminated. Only 27 of those positions are filled. Those employees will be transferred to other state jobs.
• One cottage will be dedicated to developmentally delayed boys who need behavioral treatment. Medical care will be expanded so the facility can serve boys with complex conditions.
Child advocate Jack Levine, who has crusaded for better care at Dozier for decades, sees "glimmers of progress.'' He's encouraged by the specialized services, but by his calculation the state will still be spending about $100,000 per boy per year.
"The renaming is one obvious recognition that the institution's history is checkered at best and negative at its core, so I would say, let's go the extra mile and see if there are community-based providers who would offer specialized treatment that is perhaps more appropriate.''
Olson said the changes were prompted in part by budget constraints, "But more importantly, it was the right thing to do for kids.'' Smaller facilities have proven to be effective nationally, he said.
Dozier has been plagued with problems since it opened more than a century ago. In 1903, investigators found kids chained in irons. As the decades passed, promised reforms never seemed to stick. Last year, Kiser and other men came forward with their stories and put the school back in the spotlight.
For Kiser, the changes are a kind of victory. "We feel as though we helped get something done," he said.
Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2283. Ben Montgomery can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8650.