DCF Faulted For Oversight Of Privatized Agencies

April 21, 2015

Two reports presented to lawmakers last week criticized the Florida Department of Children and Families for poor oversight of the privatized agencies that deliver child-welfare, substance-abuse and mental-health services statewide.

The reports arrived as the Legislature is considering further changes to all those services.

The Florida Office of the Auditor General published its findings last month and reviewed them Thursday with members of the Senate Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee.

One report faulted the state’s oversight of what are known as managing entities, which oversee the delivery of substance-abuse and mental-health services. With lawmakers focused on improving those services this year, the managing entities could be revamped under a bill (SB 7068) ready for a vote by the full Senate possibly as soon as Wednesday. The House version (HB 7119) is ready to go to the full House.

The other report criticized the state’s oversight of community-based care organizations, known as CBCs, which provide foster care, adoption and family-support services. The agencies have been under legislative scrutiny in recent years for a series of child deaths from abuse and neglect. Now, lawmakers are revisiting a child-welfare reform law passed last year — and the possibility of more funding for the CBCs to provide mental-health and substance-abuse treatment, among other services.

Together, the reports point to shortcomings in the Department of Children and Families’ monitoring of the privatized agencies, which receive hundreds of millions of dollars a year to coordinate and deliver services in their regions.

“The department did not always adequately conduct, document, review, and report the results of (community based care agencies) monitoring,” noted the report on the foster-care services.

“The department could not provide documentation supporting the conclusions reached on cost analyses performed for (managing entity) contracts awarded on a noncompetitive basis,” said the report on mental-health and substance-abuse services. “The department had not always documented that employees involved in the contractor evaluation and selection process attested in writing that they were independent of, and had no conflict of interest in, the MEs (managing entities) evaluated and selected.”

What’s more, department monitoring of the managing entities “did not ensure that all key assessment factors and performance measures were included in the scope of its monitoring activities. Additionally, the department did not always appropriately document that proper follow-up on ME actions was taken to correct deficiencies identified through monitoring.”

Department of Children and Families Secretary Mike Carroll, in a response to both reports, wrote, “The department generally concurs with the findings.”

The criticism comes as the House and Senate prepare to vote on whether to alter the way the seven statewide managing entities bid on Department of Children and Families contracts. The House and Senate bills would require those contracts to be performance-based and to include consequences for failing to comply. What’s more, the House proposal would require that at least two managing entities bid on each contract — or the bidding process could be opened to for-profit companies and Medicaid managed-care organizations.

Members of the Senate Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee questioned Lisa Norman, an audit manager with the Auditor General’s Office, on the reports, and some of the individual agencies objected to specific findings.

For instance, the report faulted Our Kids, the community-based care agency serving Miami-Dade and Monroe counties, for expenditures related to a $28,000 graduation event for young adults in the Independent Living program. The costs included $6,684 for food for 250 guests, which the Auditor General’s report found an inappropriate expenditure under state law.

“We recommend that Our Kids, in consultation with the department, make appropriate funding source adjustments for the unallowable costs related to the graduation event,” said the report.

But in her written response to the report, Our Kids president and CEO Jackie Gonzalez said that the event helps young people in foster care build their self-esteem.

“Our Kids has received approval from DCF for this event since we began acknowledging the success of our students in a ceremony in 2009 and did not think it necessary to receive approval each year,” the response said. “We believe that (the Auditor General) is taking an overly narrow view.”

Committee Chairwoman Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, asked Norman how Our Kids could have done the event differently.

“Use private funds,” Norman replied.

Christina Spudeas, executive director of the advocacy group Florida’s Children First, reminded lawmakers that under former DCF Secretary David Wilkins, the department had slashed most of its quality-assurance positions — which had performed some of the monitoring.

“They went down 70 positions,” Spudeas said. “Two years ago, you gave funding, but only reinstituted one-half of those. We need the rest of those positions to do full quality assurance, quality improvement, for the programs around the state. It’s very important for the children in care.”

As to the managing entities, the chief executive officer of one of them, Linda McKenna of the Central Florida Behavioral Health Network, said that the four selected for the Auditor General’s scrutiny “were the newest managing entities in the state and had all recently come up and were developing their procedures.”

Mark Fontaine, executive director of the Florida Alcohol and Drug Abuse Association, agreed, but said it was clear that lawmakers were “redefining their expectations” for the managing entities and their coordination of the services they provide.

“The expectations on the MEs are going to be greater,” Fontaine said. “It’s more like shifting to health-care management: ‘Let’s look at the people we’re serving and figure out how to do better services for those people.’ ”

by Margie Menzel, The News Service of Florida


Escambia Woman Charged In Morning School Bus Hit And Run

April 20, 2015

An Escambia County driver was arrested after a school bus hit and run crash this morning.

According to the Florida Highway Patrol, 24-year old Starmeka Turner pulled her 2005 Lincoln out of a Circle K parking lot on Jackson Street into the path of a school bus with 12 passengers on board about 7:45 a.m.. Turner then fled the scene, but was located a short time later and arrested.

There were no injuries to the driver or 12 passengers on the school bus.

Turner was charged with leaving the scene of a crash with property damage and violation of right of way. At noon, she remained in the Escambia County Jail  with bond set at $250.

Escambia Schools Release 2015-2016 School Calendar

April 20, 2015

The calendar for the 2015-2016 school year has been released by the Escambia County School District.
To download the calendar (pdf), click here.


2015 Fall Semester Highlights:

  • Teachers will return to schools on Monday, Aug. 10, 2015.
  • Students are to report on Monday, Aug. 17, 2015.
  • Labor Day Holiday will be observed Sept. 7, 2015. (Schools and offices will be closed.)
  • Students will have Oct. 12, 2015 off – Teachers have a planning day.
  • Veteran’s Day Holiday will be on Weds., Nov. 11, 2015. (Schools and offices will be closed.)
  • Students and teachers will have Nov. 25, 2015 off. (Offices will be open.)
  • Thanksgiving Holiday will be observed Nov. 26 and 27, 2015. (Schools and offices will be closed.)
  • Schools and offices will be closed for the Winter Holiday, Christmas and New Years from Dec. 21, 2015 to Jan. 1, 2016.


2016 Spring Semester Highlights:

  • Teachers return from the winter break on Mon., Jan. 4, 2016. (Students off.)
  • Students return to school and begin the second semester on Tues., Jan. 5, 2016.
  • Martin Luther King, Jr. Day will be observed on Jan. 18, 2016. (Schools and offices are closed.)
  • Students will have Feb. 15, 2016. (Pres’s Day) off – Teachers have a planning day.
  • Students and teachers are off for Spring Break March 21 to 24, 2016. (Offices are still open.)
  • Spring Holiday will be observed March 25, 2016. (All schools and offices will be closed.)
  • The last day of school for students will be Thurs., May 26, 2016.
  • Memorial Day will be observed on May 30, 2016. (All schools and offices will be closed.)
  • Last regular working day for teachers will be Tues., May 31, 2016.

Man Charged With Dumping Paint

April 20, 2015

An Escambia County man is facing a felony charge after allegedly dumping dozens of gallons of paint into the ground.

Ezequiel Santos-Gomez was charged with littering in any quantity for commercial purposes, a third degree felony, and disposal at an unpermitted sold waste facility.

Escambia County Code Enforcement received an anonymous complaint about the improper disposal of paint. Code Enforcement and Florida Fish and Wildlife Law Enforcement officers responded and found an excavated pit that was 5-feet wide, 11-feet long and 4-feet deep. They reported finding white paint around and inside the pit, along with about 100 five-gallon plastic buckets stacked adjacent to the pit, located in a residential area near Pensacola Christian College.

Santos-Gomez reportedly told officers that he checked an could only dispose of 20 gallons per day at the landfill.

It was estimated that 60 gallons of paint had been dumped in the pit.

Blue Wahoos At Smokies Rained Out

April 20, 2015

The Pensacola Blue Wahoos’ series finale against the Tennessee Smokies was postponed on Sunday due to rain. The game will be made up as part of a doubleheader in Pensacola on Wednesday, May 6th beginning at 5:30 p.m.

Pensacola hosts Tennessee next month on May 5-9. This is the third game postponed due to rain for the Blue Wahoos this season.

The Blue Wahoos travel to Birmingham to face the Barons in a five-game series with the opening game scheduled for 7:05 p.m. Monday night. Scheduled to take the mound is RHP Robert Stephenson (0-1, 4.76) for Pensacola and RHP Frankie Montas (0-0, 1.69) for Birmingham.

The Blue Wahoos return home to Pensacola Bayfront Stadium on April 25 against the Biloxi Shuckers.

Grocery Prices Up In ‘Spring Picnic’ Survey

April 19, 2015

Higher retail prices for several foods, including sirloin tip roast, ground chuck, deli ham and orange juice, resulted in a slight increase in the American Farm Bureau Federation’s Spring Picnic Marketbasket survey.

The informal survey shows the total cost of 16 food items that can be used to prepare one or more meals was $53.87, up $.60 or about 1 percent compared to a survey conducted a year ago. Of the 16 items surveyed, eight increased and eight decreased in average price.

“Several meat items increased in price, accounting for much of the modest increase in the marketbasket,” said John Anderson, AFBF’s deputy chief economist. “The 1 percent increase shown by our survey tracks closely with the Agriculture Department’s forecast of 2 percent to 3 percent food inflation for 2015,” he said.

Items showing retail price increases from a year ago included:

  • sirloin tip roast, up 14 percent to $5.71 per pound
  • ground chuck, up 12 percent to $4.61 per pound
  • orange juice, up 7 percent to $3.47 per half-gallon
  • toasted oat cereal, up 7 percent to $3.12 for a 9-ounce box
  • deli ham, up 6 percent to $5.53 per pound
  • eggs, up 4 percent to $2.05 per dozen
  • shredded cheddar cheese, up 3 percent to $4.59 per pound
  • potatoes, up 2 percent to $2.74 for a 5-pound bag

These items showed modest retail price decreases compared to a year ago:

  • flour, down 9 percent to $2.52 for a 5-pound bag
  • bacon, down 8 percent to $4.44 per pound
  • apples, down 8 percent to $1.47 per pound
  • chicken breast, down 7 percent to $3.28 per pound
  • whole milk, down 6 percent to $3.45 per gallon
  • vegetable oil, down 6 percent to $2.67 for a 32-ounce bottle
  • bagged salad, down 5 percent to $2.47 per pound
  • white bread, down 3 percent to $1.75 per 20-ounce loaf

Price checks of alternative milk and egg choices not included in the overall marketbasket survey average revealed the following: 1/2 gallon regular milk, $2.24; 1/2 gallon organic milk, $4.47; and one dozen “cage-free” eggs, $3.57.

The year-to-year direction of the marketbasket survey tracks closely with the federal government’s Consumer Price Index report for food at home. As retail grocery prices have increased gradually over time, the share of the average food dollar that America’s farm and ranch families receive has dropped.

“Through the mid-1970s, farmers received about one-third of consumer retail food expenditures for food eaten at home and away from home, on average. Since then, that figure has decreased steadily and is now about 16 percent, according to the Agriculture Department’s revised Food Dollar Series,” Anderson said.

Using the “food at home and away from home” percentage across-the-board, the farmer’s share of this $53.87 marketbasket would be $8.62.

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Tate To Present Precussion Only Spring Recital

April 19, 2015

Percussion students at Tate High School will present a Spring Recital Monday at 7 p.m. in the school cafeteria.

The concert will feature four talented soloists in addition to the three concert percussion ensembles that all earned Superior ratings at the recent district competition.

This is a free concert that is open to the public. It’s the first “percussion only” concert held at Tate, and the school hopes that will become an annual event.

Participating in the program will be:

Concert Percussion
  • Stephen Cleary
  • Morgan Ghiorso
  • Alex Hatley
  • Mason Humphries
  • Bryan LeDuc
  • Patrick McHaney
  • Crosby Mowry
  • Colin Smith
  • Will Talley
Symphonic Percussion
  • Landon Benson
  • Nikki Grant
  • Tristan Hacker
  • Ethan Jensen
  • Kathryn Skipper
  • Ben Wagner
  • Hunter Welch
Tate Percussion Ensemble
  • Peyton Benson
  • Caleb Colon
  • Aaron Gavin
  • Maurice Hendricks
  • Kyle Irps
  • Paxton Metcalf
  • Honya Richbourg
  • Kaitlin Sainata
  • Danae Smith
  • Ryan Tanton

Smith Completes Parris Island Training

April 19, 2015

PFC Cody Dewayne Smith graduated recently after 13 weeks of Marine Corp training at Parris Island, SC.  Smith served as a squad leader during his training. He was awarded as an expert in rifle markmanship  and was promoted to private first class. Smith is the son of Rex and Theresa Smith of Jay.

Smokies Top Blue Wahoos

April 19, 2015

After splitting a doubleheader on Friday night, the Pensacola Blue Wahoos dropped its Saturday night game against the Tennessee Smokies 7-1. Smokies’ pitcher Felix Pena pitched a gem giving up one run through six innings of work to clinch the series between the two teams. The series finale is Sunday at 1:05 p.m. CT.

LHP Wandy Peralta had a strong start with one hit in two innings until he gave up three runs to the Smokies on three hits in the third. After giving up a fourth run in the fifth inning, RHP Jacob Johnson came into the game in only his second relief appearance of the year.

The only run for the Blue Wahoos came in the top of the fourth. LF Sean Buckley started the inning with a double to left field and proceeded to score off of a single from 1B Kyle Waldrop. In the first inning, RF Jesse Winker hit a single to extend his on-base streak to six games.

Johnson gave up a three-run homer to Willson Contreras in the sixth inning as the Wahoos’ bats were unable to come to life with only one hit in the final four innings of the game. Smokies’ Fernando Cruz gained the save with three innings of work.

RHP Chad Rogers came into the game in the eighth and threw a hitless inning with two strikeouts while RHP Drew Hayes closed the game giving up only one hit.

The Blue Wahoos return to Pensacola Saturday, April 25th against the Biloxi Shuckers.

Florida Gov’t Weekly Roundup: The Week The Legislature Stood Still

April 19, 2015

It was The Week the Legislature Stood Still.
http://www.northescambia.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/floridaweeklly.jpgLawmakers acknowledged this week they almost certainly won’t get the budget done on time — by the scheduled May 1 conclusion of the legislative session — because of a health-care funding issue that state officials have known about for the past year. A quick round of finger-pointing ensued in an unusual four-way conflict that involved Gov. Rick Scott, the House, the Senate and the federal government, but that did little to solve the problem.

The two main parties to the squabble are the House and the Senate, which stand $4.2 billion apart, thanks largely to differences in how they handle the Low Income Pool, or LIP, program and the Senate’s proposal to use $2.8 billion in Medicaid expansion funds to help lower-income Floridians purchase private insurance. And as increasingly caustic remarks flew between the two Republican-controlled chambers, it was clear that the Era of Good Feelings (real or imagined) of the last two years was over.

Democrats worked to conceal any glee they might have over those developments by speaking of their disappointment.

“Apparently, we’ve got a train wreck, and those two locomotives are about ready to hit,” said House Minority Leader Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach.

And as the collision approached, the chambers slogged through schedules that had minimal impact. Dozens of bills were approved by the House, but few drew much attention. Members of the Senate Appropriations Committee endured a daylong meeting Thursday that was notable for how little true controversy was attracted by the legislation on the agenda.

Lawmakers weren’t quite adrift, but knowing that they wouldn’t complete the one constitutional requirement for the annual legislative session — and won’t have the bargaining power that the budget provides to reach agreement on other legislation — gave the events an air of going through the motions.

GIVING ME LIP

The discussions surrounding LIP, which provides money to hospitals and other health providers that serve large numbers of poor and uninsured patients, were already tense when a high-ranking official at the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services sent a letter Tuesday that set off a wave of recriminations. The letter suggested that continued funding for LIP, set to expire June 30, was tied to the state’s decision on Medicaid expansion.

CMS official Vikki Wachino wrote that “the state’s expansion status is an important consideration in our approach regarding extending the LIP beyond June.”

“We believe that the future of the LIP, sufficient provider rates, and Medicaid expansion are linked in considering a solution for Florida’s low income citizens, safety net providers and taxpayers,” Wachino wrote.

Any remaining comity between the two chambers disappeared. House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, responded to the letter by issuing a statement lambasting the federal government and the Senate.

“It is unthinkable that (the federal government) would leave our state on the hook for over a billion dollars simply because they want a specific policy outcome,” Crisafulli said. “We believe the Florida Senate has provided inaccurate and false hope to Washington, D.C., and has muddled negotiations. Let me be clear — the discussions about LIP and Medicaid expansion must be separate.”

Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, wrote a memo to senators predicting stark consequences — including the possibility of closed cancer centers or dialysis units — if the state didn’t get LIP or a health-care expansion done.

“The bottom line is: more than ever, today’s correspondence from CMS highlights the link between LIP and expansion and the need to consider a comprehensive Florida solution,” Gardiner wrote. “Time is of the essence. The Senate remains open to meeting at any time to discuss our free-market approach to expansion or any alternative the House or governor would like to propose.”

The next day, the head of the state agency that deals with Medicaid went before the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee for a confirmation hearing. Despite what ended up being an 8-1 vote in her favor, it was not smooth sailing for Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Liz Dudek.

Senators were skeptical of the contention that the agency was unaware that LIP funding and Medicaid expansion were tied together until the CMS letter arrived. Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, pointed to media reports that a letter sent to CMS by the state’s congressional delegation dated Tuesday — and asking that LIP and expansion be considered separately — was largely written on an AHCA computer well before.

“But yet weeks ago, a letter was crafted within the agency, and you asked members of the United States Congress to sign it, and if you didn’t have any understanding or prior notice that coverage expansion and LIP were linked, why go to all the trouble of getting a letter and circulating it around Congress?” Gaetz asked.

“We had heard — and there’s a lot of information that seems to go around through the grapevine — that they were considering that there might be a linkage,” she said after the meeting. “We wanted to make sure that they would support LIP regardless of what happened with expansion.”

Scott’s administration responded Thursday by saying the governor would file a lawsuit trying to force the feds to pay up.

Scott’s lawsuit would rely on a potentially novel interpretation of the 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that upheld the federal Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare. In that case, NFIB v. Sebelius, the court ruled that the federal government couldn’t coerce states into expanding Medicaid by requiring any state that didn’t do so to give up all of its Medicaid funding.

The governor’s legal action would argue that the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services is doing the same thing by linking LIP and Medicaid expansion.

“Our citizens already pay federal taxes that go into the federal LIP program,” Scott said in a statement announcing the action. “Now, President Obama has decided that the state must take on a larger Medicaid program, forcing our taxpayers to pay even more to government, before they get their own federal tax dollars back. This is outrageous, and specifically what the Supreme Court warned against.”

Even lawmakers who supported the governor’s suit conceded it won’t free up the money on time to fix the budget mess. And some questioned the wisdom of the move.

“That’s the governor’s prerogative, that’s the job of the executive, but I just don’t understand how that would help any negotiations,” said Sen. Rene Garcia, a Hialeah Republican who oversees health-care funding. “If you are trying to negotiate a deal on LIP with CMS, I just don’t understand why you would sue the federal government in the middle of negotiations.”

THE OTHER FEDERAL NEWS

Maybe negotiations with the federal government will go more smoothly if one of the state’s favorite sons — former Gov. Jeb Bush or U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio — manages to capture the Republican presidential nomination and the White House. This week, Rubio announced what pretty much everyone already knew: He’s running.

“Before us now is the opportunity to author the greatest chapter yet in the amazing story of America,” Rubio said. “But we can’t do that by going back to the leaders and ideas of the past. We must change the decisions we are making by changing the people who are making them.”

It was a none-too-subtle shot at former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and perhaps Bush, both of whom have been around longer than the 43-year-old Rubio and both of whom share last names with former presidents.

The announcement, which Rubio has said will keep him from seeking a second term in the Senate, set of a frenzy of activity among the state’s politicos. The top contender for Rubio’s seat, state Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, had taken his name out of the running over the weekend. Congressmen and state lawmakers like Gaetz were among those considering runs for the GOP Senate nomination.

Leading Democrats have already begun uniting behind Congressman Patrick Murphy, a moderate, but Congressman Alan Grayson, a liberal firebrand, is looking likely to make a run as well.

GLASS HALF FULL

There was some actual activity on policy around the state Capitol.

Scott signed a wide-ranging bill aimed at rolling back the number of tests given to public school students, one of the highest-profile measures of the session, following up on weeks of legislative wrangling and his own campaign promise to review the level of testing in schools.

“I agree with many teachers and parents who say we have too many tests, and while this legislation is a great step forward, we will keep working to make sure Florida students are not over tested,” Scott said in a statement issued by his office.

The legislation (HB 7069) puts a hold on the use of student test data for school grades, teacher evaluations and student promotion to fourth grade until the new Florida Standards Assessments can be independently validated. It also scraps a law requiring school districts to come up with end-of-course tests in classes where the state doesn’t administer such exams; caps the amount of time students can spend on state and school district tests at 45 hours a year; and reduces the portion of a teacher’s evaluation tied to student performance from the current 50 percent to one-third.

The Senate approved a bill that would restore a popular adoption-subsidies program — while repealing a 38-year-old law that banned gay adoption. The measure (HB 7013), passed on a 27-11 vote. Its main purpose was to provide cash incentives to state workers who adopt children in Florida’s foster-care system, especially children with special needs.

But the bill the Senate passed Tuesday also included an unanticipated and controversial provision added by the House last month: a formal end to the gay-adoption ban.

Sen. Tom Lee, a Brandon Republican who voted against the bill, took issue with the House move to add the repeal to the incentives bill.

“This is a valid issue,” Lee said of the debate about the ban. “It should stand alone,” adding that it shouldn’t “hijack a piece of legislation that was supposed to be a feel-good moment for this Legislature and divide senators.”

Gaetz agreed that the term “hijacked” was a fair description. However, he said, “If I thought for one minute that I was imperiling the welfare or the upbringing or the life of any child with anything in this bill, I’d lead the floor fight against it. But there is no evidence anywhere, by anybody, that anything in this bill will do anything other than give children a chance for their dreams to come true.”

The dreams of lawmakers, lobbyists and reporters were more modest than those of children. It was a dream of a session that wraps up before June.

STORY OF THE WEEK: The budget process was left in a shambles amid a deepening conflict between Gov. Rick Scott, the House, the Senate and the federal government about what to do with health-care funding.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “Throw Dinah the bone. Please put your paw on the green button.”—A flyer being distributed by Lisa Miller, a lobbyist, who is trying to get the Legislature to add animals to a research component included in a Senate medical-marijuana proposal (SB 7066). Miller believes marijuana could help her dog, Dinah.

by Brandon Larrabee, The News Service of Florida

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