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State department explains cuts to alternative AMIkids school in Pasco

The state department that cut funding for a Pasco alternative school known as AMIkids released on Friday a detailed explanation for why the group's contract was not renewed.

The message from the state Department of Juvenile Justice said the nonprofit refused an offer to continue to provide a scaled-back program, and a recent performance review showed that roughly a third of kids at AMI programs statewide committed an offense within a year of release.

"After reviewing this data, DJJ determined there was an opportunity to improve the quality of service to youth participating in day treatment," department Secretary Wansley Walters wrote in a letter to Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey.

In her letter, Walters said the 2010 report showed only 62 percent of children completed the program and 43 percent committed a new offense during supervision.

Fasano has been sharply critical of the department's decision to end AMI's contract for most of its Central Florida operations.

"They're not telling the rest of the story," he said. "They're telling some half truths."

Fasano noted the group has been recognized by the U.S. Department of Justice "as being the only day treatment service that's been effective."

He also said AMI's bid included providing transportation to kids, not a part of the winning bid from Paxen Learning Corp. Fasano said that's a huge difference.

"How are they going to get back and forth (to the school)?" he said. "They don't even know if mom is going to be home when they get home."

AMI has long held the department's statewide contract for day treatment services. The contract changed this year when state juvenile justice officials split the award into three regions. They also split services into programs for kids who are on conditional release from a juvenile detention center and those who are placed on probation and sent to an alternative school.

The nonprofit group won five of the six smaller contracts. Melbourne-based Paxen will take over Central Florida's probation program under a $2.8 million contract, a switch saves little money: AMI's proposal was $2.9 million.

Overall, the department will spend $11.3 million this year on day treatment services. The total cost of the new contracts is $11.4 million.

AMI's New Port Richey program has about 50 students enrolled in the alternative school. Paxen would serve 20 kids in an after-school program only. AMI's programs also will be reduced in Hillsborough and Pinellas and eliminated in three other Central Florida counties.

A department spokesman said the new contract focuses services in the afternoon and evening, when most delinquent activity occurs. Splitting the contract in two parts prevents children with different risk levels from being grouped together.

In her letter, Walters said department officials asked the nonprofit to operate a 20-kid facility for students on conditional release, but the group declined.

Said Fasano: "It was not economically feasible for AMI to abide by what DJJ was telling them to do."

Lee Logan can be reached at llogan@tampabay.com or (727) 869-6236.

State department explains cuts to alternative AMIkids school in Pasco 06/01/12 [Last modified: Friday, June 1, 2012 9:03pm]
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