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Children's Board of Hillsborough offers $20M social services funding plan

TAMPA — Officials with the Children's Board of Hillsborough County unveiled a $20 million proposal Wednesday that puts new money toward homeless prevention and childhood immunizations but leaves out after-school programs and domestic violence efforts.

The recommendations, which go before board members next Thursday, represent a new way of doing business for the Children's Board, an independent agency that taxes county property owners.

This year, the board began requiring social service programs to apply and compete for the roughly $20 million available for contracts. The focus must be on children up to age 8. Officials say the idea is to add a layer of accountability, doing away with the decades-old practice of simply renewing contracts.

Nonprofit agencies submitted more than 70 proposals totaling $55 million, which were reviewed and assigned scores by community review teams of volunteers. Just over 20 programs made the final cut — about one-third as many as are funded in the current year.

The stakes are high for some of the losing agencies. The Family Justice Center, a domestic violence center, gets nearly half its $1.1 million annual budget from the Children's Board.

The center's $523,000 proposal would have focused on neighborhoods near Temple Crest and the so-called "Suitcase City" area near the University of South Florida, which have the highest number of children removed from their homes due to abuse, said chief executive officer Nikki Daniels.

Daniels noted that no domestic violence programs were funded in the proposal.

"We are hoping when we appeal that they will realize, 'Oops, we missed that,' " she said.

And if the board sticks with the proposal? "It's certainly possible we are not going to continue to exist," Daniels said.

The winners include Metropolitan Ministries, which would get $1.5 million for a new program for homeless children and an early childhood program connected to USF that helps parents teach children ages 3-5 at home.

Devereux Florida, a behavioral health agency, would get nearly $608,000 for a Sulphur Springs initiative. As part of that contract, a childhood literacy group called Parents & Children Advance Together would also provide additional reading programs for Sulphur Springs children, said executive director Christene Worley.

Teaming up with Devereux will help the literacy group expand its services in Sulphur Springs.

"I think what the Children's Board has done is great because now we are going to be collaborating," Worley said. "It just makes sense for us to join forces."

Losers include a new parental training and support program run by the Boys & Girls Clubs of Tampa Bay and new mentoring services for children of military personnel run by Seniors in Service of Tampa Bay.

Chris Letsos, vice president of operations for the Boys & Girls Club, said the shortcoming of his proposal may have been that it was geared partly toward older children.

"We're committed to the program, but we're going to just have to figure out another way to fund it," he said. He said he thought the new funding system was fair.

"More time would have been nice," he said. "But overall, I would not question the fairness of the process."

Losing programs may appeal the decision, but ultimately the appeal is with the same people who made the final funding decision — the board of directors. If appeals are successful, administrators say they will find the additional money in the budget rather than take away money from winning programs.

The Children's Board's overall budget for next year is estimated at just under $30 million. In addition to roughly $22.5 million for programs, the budget sets aside nearly $6 million in administrative and operating expenses.

Jodie Tillman can be reached at jtillman@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3374.

Commissioner seeks board audit

Could the county order a financial and management audit of the Children's Board of Hillsborough County?

Hillsborough Commissioner Les Miller asked the county attorney Wednesday to research that question, a move that comes as the Children's Board has found itself in the spotlight over its handling of no-bid contracts and such expenditures as six-figure salaries for its administrators.

The Children's Board is a separate government from the county, with its own board of directors and property tax money that it controls. It grants money to social service groups that provide programs for children.

Commissioner Kevin Beckner, the county's appointee to the Children's Board, says he already has asked a similar question of the Clerk of the Circuit Court's office, which performs audits for the county now. He was told the county could offer to pay for an audit, but that the Children's Board would have to accept the outside scrutiny.

Times staff

Children's Board of Hillsborough offers $20M social services funding plan 05/16/12 [Last modified: Thursday, May 17, 2012 7:15am]
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