County commissioners raise questions about funding and necessity of the data collection, though, before their vote
The spokeswoman for advocates of development of a Community Youth Plan indicated this week that she had expected quick passage of a contract for the groundwork research. After all, the item was placed on the Sarasota County Commission’s Dec. 13 Consent Agenda of routine business matters.
Instead, former County Commissioner Shannon Staub — chair of the Positive Youth Development Council in the county — faced about 30 minutes of questioning, primarily about whether the research truly is needed and why foundation or other private funding has not been provided to help pay for the data collection Staub called necessary to creating the plan.
The commission finally voted unanimously to approve the $165,000 expense of community engagement and research, which will be handled by Sarasota County Openly Plans for Excellence (SCOPE) at a cost $165,000, according to a memo provided to the board.
However, Commissioner Charles Hines pointed out that when this type of initiative has been broached to the board in the past, the private sector has come forward to offer financial support. What Staub was suggesting that day, he said, “is just a big flip-flop of, ‘Government, you fund all of this.’”
Just before the commissioners voted, Hines added, “There’s so much private money in this community, just with the foundations. … If our community needs this, private money needs to step up.”
Commissioner Mike Moran talked of the potential conclusion of the research: “wonderful, terrific ideas for solutions with a big cliffhanger at the end of how we’re going to pay for it.” Moran then asked Staub whether the recommendations will come with suggestions for how to cover their expense.
“Yes!” she replied.
Staub told the commissioners she had talked with a number of potential contributors to the program, but they had said they wanted to wait to see whether the County Commission would fund the initial research before committing to any contributions. “Maybe I’m ‘Miss Cheerleader,’ optimistic,” she added, but “I’ll try to find the extra money, and I don’t know that we’ll use all of this [county funding].”
“If there is a Phase 2, Phase 3,” Chair Alan Maio said, “you need to approach this commission with the money from others, with a tally.”
In response to a comment from Commissioner Nancy Detert, Staub said one primary goal of the plan is to eliminate duplication of services to children and youth.
“If we can prevent redundancies,” Hines pointed out, and make information available to the people who need services, “I think this is good.”
“This item is my worst-case scenario,” Detert said. “I kind of don’t love it, but I like all the people who support it.”
Detert added, “I would just say, try to get this done in a year,” and try not to come back next year for another $165,000.
Staub told the board members, “I would like to be the first one to bring back money unspent in this budget, if we can manage it.”
“Somebody’s 8 years old for one year,” Detert continued. “They don’t get to be 8 while you do a two-year study to see if you can help them.”
Concept and questions
During one of her final meetings on the board, County Commissioner Christine Robinson had asked her colleagues to consider making a community plan for youth and children a future county priority. On Dec. 13, Wayne Applebee, the county’s manager of human services, referenced one of Robinson’s Nov. 8 comments when he said the overarching goal of the new initiative would be to “ensure folks are rowing in the same direction on the same boat.”
Applebee indicated that SCOPE, a nonprofit organization, seems ideally suited to handle the research. Its mission, he noted, is “to connect and inspire citizens to create a better community.”
Staub explained during her opening remarks that the plan would seek to serve young people in the county from birth to age 21. Many other communities across the country have pursued such an undertaking, Staub said, so the Sarasota County group has templates from which it can draw to craft its program. “We will look at how we can use our resources more sustainably.”
She added that she believes a leadership committee will be organized, with up to 400 participants altogether working on the development of the plan. “The research and statistical part of it is crucial because we have to have the data to see what’s happening here.”
“I certainly support everything you do, Commissioner Staub, and your caring about the community,” Commissioner Nancy Detert began. “The heartburn I’m having with this issue, frankly, is the amount of time and the amount of money” proposed to be spent on it.
Referring to two representatives of Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Sun Coast and a third member of the Positive Youth Development Council, who had joined Staub at the session, Detert added that she could give any one of them the $165,000 and feel certain the woman would “do something” right away with it.
Detert continued, “Nobody cares about kids more than I do … but I’m a real-world practical person. Do I want to spend two years studying the information?” She added that she probably has “16 boxes of statistics” in her garage, and asked whether Staub and others interested in the initiative wanted to spend time discussing a mission statement, “or do you want to get out there in the real world of kids? … I think we kind of already know where the needs are.”
Representatives of all the 15 organizations that comprise the membership of the Positive Youth Development (PYD) Council “said, ‘Let’s put our money to this, because no one has the big picture,’” Staub replied. “No one knows what’s going on throughout the county.”
Additionally, Staub said, the PYD members have wanted, from the beginning of the organization, “to have a plan with a shared vision for the community.”
For example, she continued, almost everyone talks about the lack of parental involvement, “but strengthening families has not been brought into the mix.”
John McCarthy, SCOPE’s executive director, pointed out that the PYD does not reach all the children in the county. This project would do that, he said — from children in sports programs to those in school activities to those in faith-based programs. The research will provide “a complete inventory of what’s offered for youth and how they are engaged [in the initiatives],” and it will identify gaps.
“We still have youth that are slipping through the cracks,” he told the commissioners. Those show up in the form of Sheriff’s Office statistics and figures for students who do not graduate from high school, for example.
McCarthy also explained that SCOPE will conduct a considerable number of engagement sessions, from Newtown to North Port. “You’ve got to reach out to all segments of the community and all segments within those [geographical areas]. But it’s all labor-intensive work.”
Some of the funds, he said, would be used to market those sessions to the public.
Moreover, he told the board, “I think it’s probably an 18-month project,” instead of a two-year-long undertaking.