The Children's Board of Hillsborough County promotes itself as a crusader for children and families who are struggling to reach their full potential. That's a noble mission statement. Yet for all the millions of dollars, a new $4 million office building and even its own Internet radio station, the board's actual contribution to the welfare of the county's children is woefully undefined and murky. The public should demand greater accountability from the Children's Board leadership.
The Children's Board has an annual budget of $35 million mostly funded through property taxes, 56 full-time employees making an average $66,000 a year, and an executive director making $171,330 a year, more than the mayor of Tampa. That's a lot of manpower and spending to essentially distribute tax money to programs that actually deliver the services. Voters approved the creation of the Children's Board 24 years ago, and executive director Luanne Panacek has defended the board's efforts in promoting healthy children, researching the success of groups it funds, and creating a lending library and children's traveling art gallery. While these are worthwhile efforts, they come at a hefty cost.
In these tough economic times, other public agencies have tightened their belts. Voters will have to reauthorize the Children's Board in 2016. But for now the County Commission should demand better accountability and examine whether all of those employees, big salaries and new offices are necessary.