TAMPA — Former Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio is wasting little time at the Children's Board of Hillsborough County, cutting 15 full-time positions just two weeks into her temporary post as top administrator at the taxpayer-funded agency.
Those employees represent more than a quarter of the nearly 55-person workforce at the Children's Board, which is seeking to regain credibility amid questions over spending practices, personnel disputes and a former executive director who let a friend anoint the public building with holy oil.
Iorio, appointed interim chief executive earlier this month, said the cuts will save $1.4 million and reduce the percentage of the budget spent on administrative costs, which currently is nearly 20 percent.
"It's definitely an agency that could do with fewer people," Iorio said in an interview. "That's the reality of it."
Compared to six similar children's agencies in the state, the Children's Board ranks last in the percentage invested in services — and first in the percentage spent on salaries, according to figures Iorio collected and presented to the directors.
Only one of the 15 positions eliminated was vacant. Iorio also laid off a temporary community outreach coordinator.
The affected workers were put on administrative leave last week and will get 11 days of paid leave.
Iorio told board members in a memo that the layoffs don't reflect any performance issues on the part of the employees, but are necessary "to better align the agency with its core mission to help better the lives of children in our community."
The laid-off workers made an average salary of $75,745. Their ranks include a $44,096 program coordinator, the $127,338 organizational development director and the entire four-person communications department.
Iorio plans to replace that department with one public affairs officer.
"Hey, when I was mayor we only had one (communications) person with one assistant, and that was it," she said.
Paula Allen, the project manager who operated the agency's art gallery, was among those let go. KidzCreate Gallery of Children's Art, a traveling exhibit of county children's artwork, had a roughly $116,000 budget, which included Allen's nearly $54,000 salary.
In March, then-executive director Luanne Panacek had defended the art gallery as important to the agency's mission.
"It generates attention and a voice for issues more than anything we've done," Panacek told the Tampa Bay Times then.
Iorio said Tuesday the agency could continue to sponsor children's art, but in a different way. She said the Children's Board could take a smaller portion, about $50,000, and team up with an arts organization to avoid overhead costs.
One of her first requests when she took the job was to compare personnel spending with other children's services agencies in the state. "When I got the results," she said, "I said, 'We don't fare well.' "
In the current year, the Hillsborough agency spent 14 percent of its budget on salaries and benefits.
That was the highest, with the Palm Beach counterpart coming in second with nearly 11 percent.
The share of the Hillsborough agency's budget spent on programs was 72 percent.
The other agencies were spending at least 80 percent of their budgets on programs. With the personnel cuts, however, Iorio's proposed budget spends 80 percent on programs.
The property tax that supports the Children's Board — 50 cents for every $1,000 of taxable value — comes up for voter reauthorization in 2016, a date that looms large over every decision, including the one to lay off workers.
"It's terrible, but you know if we don't make these changes, I'm not sure if we'll earn the respect of the voters in 2016," she said. "And if we don't earn their respect, there won't be anyone employed by the Children's Board. Because there won't be a Children's Board."
Jodie Tillman can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3374.