The board of the Pinellas Early Learning Coalition voted on Wednesday to fire its chief executive in the wake of the agency's failure to spend millions of dollars intended to lower the cost of day care for poor families.
In July, the Tampa Bay Times reported that the coalition had to return $2.4 million in unspent funds to the state. The decision angered child care advocates who estimated that as many as 500 children could have benefited, and led some board members to doubt CEO Janet Chapman's ability to lead the organization. After initially claiming that cost-cutting had caused the surplus, Chapman later apologized to the board and said it was the result of a sharp decline in enrollment. The coalition had previously lowered its age cutoff from 12 to 9 years old in an attempt to focus on younger children, a move that made many day care recipients ineligible.
At the request of the board, a private human relations firm surveyed coalition staff and found a majority was unhappy with Chapman. Some said she'd ignored warnings about the surplus. The report also noted dissatisfaction with board chair Julie Daniels, a gubernatorial appointee.
The board's vote brought an end to months of meetings in which Chapman and Daniels could barely contain their contempt for each other.
At one meeting, Daniels announced that Chapman, who was sitting one seat away, had stopped returning her calls, emails and text messages. At another, Chapman revealed that she'd filed an ethics complaint against Daniels. A mediator was called in. Chapman stopped coming to meetings, leaving a doctor's note saying she was ill.
On Wednesday, the board voted to make deputy CEO Lindsay Carson, who has been with the coalition since 2005, its interim leader. Chapman did not attend the meeting.
"I applauded them last night," said Arthur O'Hara, executive director of the R'Club child care centers and a recent critic of the coalition. "I still think it took too long, but it probably had to happen that way."
Contact Anna M. Phillips at [email protected] or (727) 893-8779.