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EARLY LEARNING COALITION PLANS, HOPES FOR $26M

The agency knows cuts may be coming and is preparing other fundraising just in case.

The agency that oversees educational programs for the area's youngest children will have $26-million to work with this fiscal year.

Or will it?

Members of the Pasco Hernando Early Learning Coalition board unanimously approved a spending plan Thursday amid warnings from the director of Workforce Innovation, the state agency that oversees the coalition.

"As you may be aware, the Governor recently identified some potential funding reductions for Fiscal Year 2007-08," Monesia T. Brown wrote to all the state's early learning coalitions.

Brown's letter said her agency recently received a letter from the governor's office and House and Senate outlining their plan of action to address a projected $800-million to $1-billion revenue shortfall.

The reductions for the Agency for Workforce Innovation are expected to total $76.6-million statewide, with subsidized child care and voluntary pre-kindergarten programs possibly affected.

Board members expressed concern about the possible cuts but used current numbers until they learn more. The Legislature has called a special session to deal with the shortfall.

"The state is in a budget crunch, and it is filtering down," acting executive director Lenore Zulauf said.

Board member Dave Meglay stressed the need to prepare for the worst.

"We need to act like this train is coming down the tracks and going to hit us," he said. "Instead of waiting until it does, we need to have something in place so we don't have to disenroll kids."

Latest figures show 3,159 Pasco children and 1,297 Hernando children were enrolled in subsidized child care in June, while 2,156 Pasco students and 868 Hernando students were enrolled in fall pre-kindergarten programs.

Fiscal manager Debbie Antioco said the agency likely won't know anything certain until fall.

"The state is saying don't go off the deep end but telling coalitions to be prepared," she said.

Cecka Green, spokeswoman for the Agency for Workforce Innovation, said state officials have no idea yet what the fallout for early learning coalitions would be.

The warnings from Tallahassee prompted board members to renew their calls for better fundraising. The agency so far has raised only $46,250 in match dollars from the Hernando County Commission. It has $218,700 worth of in-kind services for which the state has granted "qualified" approval. It needs a total of $344,000 to meet state requirements.

A failure to secure those dollars in the past has not raised state eyebrows as some counties exceed the match requirements and the money evens out, Antioco said.

But given the current climate, that might not continue to be the case. And as local government money dries up, more agencies will be vying for money from local United Ways.

Board member Steve Davis said he is organizing a golf tournament to help improve the financial picture.

The board agreed to appoint an ad hoc committee to help Davis and come up with other fundraising ideas.

In other business, members of a search committee looking for a new executive director said they have culled the list of 90 applications to 27 who met minimum qualifications. Those names will be forwarded to the executive committee, which will pare the list further and decide whom to interview.

Lisa Buie can be reached at (813) 909-4604 or toll free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 4604. Her e-mail address is buie@sptimes.com.

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