How reform might look for Jacksonville's children programs - Florida Politics

How reform might look for Jacksonville’s children programs

A little over two weeks ago, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and a number of City Council members called a presser to announce a stopgap resolution of a problem months in the making: insufficient funding for summer camps.

The Jacksonville Children’s Commission, which greenlighted the process, was trying to privilege quality over quantity. Yet, as camp sites closed and children were on the verge of being shut out, it was clear there were problems with the approach hammered out by the JCC over a course of months.

The money was found to close a lot of the gap: 24 more sites were funded (bringing the total to 72 citywide, down from 98 previously), $958,000 more being allocated, and 1,700 more kids being served than would have previously been possible.

But the more enduring takeaway, as revealed by Curry’s quotes, was a process that had gone sideways.

Curry was “frustrated” and  “surprised to learn of significant cuts” to per-capita camp allocations.

While the $958,000 was a “band aid,” Curry said that he would introduce reforms to ensure that this doesn’t happen again, including ensuring alignment between the Jacksonville Children’s Commission and the Jax Journey — his administration’s key anti-crime initiative.

When asked if the two overlapping programs could be merged, Curry said “all options are on the table,” depending on the “best interest of kids.”

Last week, Mayor Curry spoke to these themes again, noting the disconnect between intention and realization in these programs, and how that disconnect undermines public safety itself.

“No, I’m not happy with where we are on public safety right now. That’s an across-the-board statement. I’m going to continue to provide the resources that I deem necessary, and work every day to tweak things to where we get the best results.”

And the Jacksonville Journey and the Jacksonville Children’s Commission are headed for “big reforms.” Decisions will be made in a matter of weeks, he said.

“We are beyond tweaking when it comes to these programs we deliver to children, and big reforms are coming,” Curry emphasized.

“We’re working through exactly what those reforms are going to look like. I will have reached a decision inside of two weeks.”

Some have said Curry seeks to roll the Jacksonville Children’s Commission up into Jacksonville Journey, a concept that seemed to be suggested in Thursday’s budget meeting for the Journey.

Curry dismissed that, at least as being more than an option.

“Nobody knows what I’m looking at. I’m working inside a very small group — anything you’re hearing is pure speculation.”

“I’m looking at making sure that we have programs that are very clear and meeting the needs of specific ‘at-hope youth’ that are the solution to prevention and intervention,” Curry said, using a phrase he first used two weeks prior when announcing $988,000 of new money available for youth summer camps.

“We’ve got to be very clear about how we deliver those services and make sure we’re getting results, and make sure that the management team is aggressive in terms of pursuing those goals, and that the whole governance structure is aggressive as well, and hold them accountable,” Curry said.

As was demonstrated Thursday in the Jax Journey budget meeting, plans for the future of the program are in limbo, at least in terms of structural organization, given the looming specter of major reforms.

Thursday saw Journey director Debbie Verges note that Journey and the JCC were increasingly aligned — and that she sees the Journey as a $9M program rather than a $5M program, with the JCC administering “Journey programs.”

Meanwhile, the Jacksonville Children’s Commission budget hearing Friday afternoon had its own opacity, given that any requests were to be theoretical until Curry made his call.

CAO Sam Mousa listened to the proposed enhancements from JCC CEO Jon Heymann, including the $958,000 summer camp money mentioned above that turned into a sum just over $1M after what was called “marathon mathematics” at Tuesday’s shambolic Jacksonville City Council meeting.

The total camp request: just over $2M.

“You made the decision to enhance the program. Why did you not look at other programs,” Mousa asked, and move money over based on adjusted “priorities.”

Short answer: JCC lacked the authority to move funds without Council authority. And the board chose not to shift money from other priorities.

JCC’s Board Chair also critiqued media for not pointing out that some kids would get extra weeks of summer camp based on the formula the board chose to work.

As well, it was pointed out that there was a “political need”, on the part of the City Council, to expand camp availability, with those who lost in rebidding framing it as “the greatest atrocity that ever happened,” according to Board Chair Matt Kane.

“As that boils up into an article in the paper, they talk about the number of kids,” Kane said.

Some camps, it was revealed, hadn’t been rebid for a decade.

“For ten years, the same entities got the monies,” Mousa said. “The commission did nothing for ten years–”

Kane amended it to three years, then another explanation was advanced about “grassroots money pots.”

As the pitches continued, a look of skepticism was unmistakable on Mousa’s face.

Kane noted that JCC is the “child-serving organization,” and that Journey camps were more expensive, per capita, than JCC’s.

“We’re accepting your budget today as information,” Mousa said. “We’re going to wait and see what the mayor wants to do.”

____

The Curry Administration has not been averse to re-org projects: for a recent example, consider the reconstitution of the Neighborhoods Department.

Even before taking office, Curry’s transition team was mulling over how to bring back a department downshifted during the Alvin Brown administration, as a dubious director lost the confidence of others in city government.

Curry’s first Chief of Staff, Kerri Stewart, ran Neighborhoods previously when John Peyton was Jacksonville Mayor.

Soon enough, the department was re-instituted, with key city processes moved under that umbrella.

There are, to be sure, caveats: it is too early still to point to a real success the Neighborhoods Department has had – it’s more a function of reorganization than something that has shown results that translate into eye-popping headlines.

Ultimately, though, city government functions best when mistakes and errors in judgment and execution are not “in the headlines,” and when departments have clear lines of communication to the public and the legislative and executive branches.

That’s a lesson taught — yet again — by the need to do 11th hour make-up work to restore summer camp funding.

And a lesson that Lenny Curry does not want to deal with again, which means that structural reform is absolutely necessary — and a big story of this budget process.

1 Comment

  1. Did Gary Chartrand pay politicians to steer more money to his pet charter school?
    Gary Chartrand is not a mercenary like the owners of Charter Schools USA, who are looking to make a buck. No, he’s a zealot, he hates public schools and the unionized teachers that work in them. He is a smart zealot too, he knows if he gives tens of thousands to select politicians they will reward his KIPP school with millions.

    The Jacksonville Children’s Commission broke with long standing precedent to send the KIPP school three quarters of a million dollars.

    From the Times Union:

    In the recommendations announced Wednesday morning, Tiger Academy and KIPP Public Charter Schools were able to secure funding through their associated nonprofits. For Tiger Academy, which is recommended to receive $581,577 for both summer and afterschool, that is the YMCA of Florida’s First Coast. For KIPP, which would get $752,796 for afterschool at three of its schools, the nonprofit was its own foundation, the Jacksonville Alliance for KIPP Schools.

    http://jacksonville.com/news/metro/education/2017-04-18/children-s-commission-staff-board-odds-over-charter-schools

    The director of the JCC John Heymann was so outraged by this he threatened to resign. Also from the Times Union.

    “As long as I’m the CEO of this place — and you guys can take that vote as soon as you want — this should not stop the original dictate of this agency to bring the expertise and the resources of outside agencies to benefit the school system, and should not philosophically become another funding arm for the public school system,” Heymann said. “By not doing this, you are opening up a Pandora’s box that will greatly change the face of JCC.”
    Fast forward just a few weeks and John Heymann quit his position.

    http://floridapolitics.com/archives/237753-jon-heymann-retires-jacksonville-childrens-commission

    What does this have to do with KIPP? Gary Chartrand donated tens of thousands of dollars to Lenny Curry and the pacs that helped elect him. This break from routine also had to be approved by the city’s general counsel who serves at the pleasure of the mayor. I can imagine the conversation now.

    GC: “Lenny what do you want me to do?”
    LC: Checks bank account, “approve it.”

    Then Chartrand did the same thing with Jason Fischer, he funneled tens of thousands of dollars into his campaigns and pacs, and he introduced a bill to give KIPP another million in tax payer dollars.

    http://floridapolitics.com/archives/231896-former-duval-school-board-member-carries-charter-school-bill-in-tallahassee

    Millions of public dollars, broken precedents, tens of thousands in campaign contributions to select politicians, this is an episode of House of Cards.

    The bottom line is politicians Chartrand supports end up funneling millions of tax payer dollars into his pet causes and that is not how things are supposed to work.

    Want to see how much? Go to the supervisor of elections pages and type in Chartrand

    http://www.duvalelections.com/Candidates-And-Committees/Candidate-Committee-Treasurer-Reports-Bios/Search-Local-Contributions-And-Expenditures

    http://dos.elections.myflorida.com/campaign-finance/contributions/#both

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