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January 23, 2014

HamCo School district not happy with DJJ negotiations

Youth treatment center on hold for now

Jasper — At the Jan. 13 meeting of the Hamilton County School Board, the matter of the contract between the school district and the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) to provide a 40-bed moderate risk residential facility and program was met with much discussion and no resolution.

“As you are aware, the DJJ would like to open a facility here in Hamilton County,” Moffses told the members of the school board and the audience. “As such, there is an agreement that should be in place between the school district and the DJJ.”

Moffses explained that on June 19, 2013, the DJJ solicited an Invitation to Negotiate (ITN #10001) stating that the DJJ was seeking a 40-bed residential program for low to moderate risk boys ages 14-18, with innovations in delinquency programming. The basic care and custody would be provided in accordance with Florida statutes, administrative rules and department policy to meet minimum requirements. The solicitation specified that the facility would be located at 11180 NE 38 St. in Jasper, which is where the former Panther facility was located.

As required to do, the school district responded to the solicitation on July 18, 2013, letting the DJJ know they were aware of the proposal and that the facility could be opening in the district if awarded.

On Nov. 21, 2013, after a request for information by the school district on Nov. 20, 2013, the DJJ responded with a letter that stated the Jasper Youth Treatment Center at the above mentioned address would be opening to receive students committed to the DJJ on Jan. 13, 2014.

Moffses said vendors were showing up at the district office stating they were going to be in charge of a facility.

“We had no idea what was taking place,” said Moffses.

The opening date, Moffses said, was since changed to Wednesday, Jan. 15. He also went through all the specifics of Florida Administrative Code that defines the responsibilities of school districts to provide instruction and educational services for students who are placed in a DJJ program.

“These things should have been done long before an announcement took place that we were going to receive a facility,” said Moffses.

There are some options, Moffses said. The school district can provide their own staff for the facility or they can contract with a vendor to provide the services.

“We are looking at that,” he said. “Understand that if we do contract with a vendor, we are required by these laws to provide at least 90 percent of Florida Education Finance Program (FEFP) funding that we get to the vendor.”

Questions began arising, Moffses said, when they reviewed the documents and saw that if they were going to use an outside private vendor, they were required to submit a completed contract to the Department of Education (DOE) for review prior to the October FTE (full-time equivalent student count) reporting survey.

Moffses said, “We weren’t even notified of the facility until November, so we had no contract in place to submit to DOE during the October timeframe to even make the FTE projection count.”

FTE dollars are the funds the school district uses to operate, Moffses explained. At this point, he said, the school district reached out to the financial team at the DOE to let them know what was taking place.

“We verified every option that was available to us, and how to try and overcome some of the funding possibilities,” said Moffses.

In order for the school district to man the facility, Moffses said it would take five individuals at an approximate cost of $220,000 that the district might not get reimbursed for until a year later.

Moffses reiterated there is no agreement in place between the school district and the DJJ and that the previous agreement expired in October, 2013, which was for a specific facility called Panther. That agreement, he said, is not even applicable to the agreement now being discussed.

Moffses said, after consulting with legal counsel, it was determined that “without a cooperative agreement, the facility, in our mind, cannot even open.”

“At this time, we’re close on an agreement, but we do not have an agreement,” he said.

Moffses said that although the school district’s finances are better than they have been in a long time, they are still a financially constrained district.

“There are needs of our own students that we need to address,” he said. “As we calculated all the dollars that could possibly be put toward a DJJ facility, we were very clear to them that we didn’t feel that it was appropriate that we are redirecting funds and losing money on a process with the DJJ when our students are in need.”

Moffses said the DJJ wants the school district to fund students who aren’t even from their district.

One item in the documents Moffses pointed out, states, “The timelines and responsibilities, as required by Section 1013.53 F.S., for the notification by DJJ to the local school board of the siting of new facilities and the awarding of a contract for the construction or operation of such a facility shall be included in the agreement.”

“So, again, we have no agreement,” said Moffses. “None of this information was placed in the agreement. That’s the position that we’ve taken all along, that we are in a financial hardship situation as it is.”

Moffses added that the DJJ did not provide the information in advance to the school district to help offset the costs.

A meeting was held on Dec. 19, between the school district, the DJJ, representatives from the DOE, as well as FADSS (Florida Association of District School Superintendents), which was represented by Senator Bill Montford and staff attorney Joy Frank.

“It was a good discussion, no resolution,” Moffses said. “We provided them with all the financial data that they needed and showed them where the possible shortfalls could be.”

The school district’s position, as of this meeting, Moffses explained, is (1) Backed by statutes and states a cooperative agreement must be in place before DJJ can open a facility and seat students; (2) A cooperative agreement has not been finalized; (3) HCSD intends to contract with vendor G4S to provide all educational services; (4) A contract with G4S is pending a cooperative agreement with DJJ; (5) And an alternative FTE count has been requested from FLDOE for the week ending March 14, 2014, to address DJJ’s student population.

The reason for extending the FTE count, Moffses said, is to ensure a maximum amount of students in house during the count.

Moffses said the school district is not trying to make money. They just don’t want to lose money. As such, they have added an addendum to the proposed agreement that would protect the school district, whereby the DJJ would be responsible for any dollar difference in excess of FTE dollars actually received.

Moffses went on to say that the board was aware that in the past, students had been transferred out of the district during funding count weeks, which caused the district to lose FTE dollars. Then, after the count, the students would reappear, he added, which is why the district asked the DJJ to sign off on the addendum to the agreement.

“They will not agree to that,” Moffses said.

The DJJ’s response was that they agreed to use best efforts to try and work within the count structure. Moffses said the ongoing discussions with the DJJ have been lengthy, but for the most part, very cordial.

“At the same time, this is one agency of the state putting another entity in a financial situation,” said Moffses. “They are taking the position that they will not address any of the funding and that it is our concern, so if there was a loss of funding, that is on the district.”

HCSD, Moffses said, stands by ready, willing and able to assist DJJ to have a productive and successful program, however, current funds need to be directed to the district’s students.

Moffses then left it up to the school board to decide how they want him to proceed. He said he would have a hard time recommending the district accept the agreement, knowing there was a potential to lose money.

After more lengthy discussion, the board agreed not to sign off on the agreement as is.

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