Jasper — UPDATE: Jasper Youth Treatment Center Program Director Dwight Pollock said by e-mail Saturday, Feb. 15, that his employer, Youth Services International (YSI) has agreed to place all of the JYTC staff on unpaid administrative leave until Friday, Feb. 21.
“The Florida Department of Juvenile Justice (FDJJ) has agreed to try once more to enter into an agreement with the school board as one last ditch effort to save the facility,” Pollock said. “We're praying the school board makes the right decision.”
The Florida Department of Juvenile Justice (FDJJ) announced on Thursday, Feb. 13 that they are officially scrapping the youth treatment center in Jasper and will most likely never attempt to open a facility in Hamilton County in the future, according to Dwight Pollock, who was to be the program director for the facility and has been a Hamilton County resident for over 25 years. This decision is a result of failed negotiations between the FDJJ and the Hamilton County School District.
“I just received official notification from my employer and the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice that the contract to provide services will not be executed due to circumstances beyond their control surrounding the lack of an agreement with the school district,” Pollock said by e-mail on Thursday, Feb. 13. “It will be difficult, but I will notify staff in the morning they no longer have a job.”
The final plea from JYTC employees
At the Feb. 10 school board meeting, three people who were slated to work at the new Jasper Youth Treatment Center (JYTC), addressed their concerns to the Hamilton County School Board about the impasse between the school district and the FDJJ. About 36 Hamilton County residents would have had jobs at the JYTC and many of them were in attendance at the meeting.
The FDJJ was hoping to open a 40-bed residential facility for low to moderate risk boys ages 14-18 at the same location as the former Panther facility. The problem was that there was no signed agreement between the FDJJ and the school district because they kept arguing back and forth about funding for the project. Superintendent Thomas Moffses said the school district couldn’t absorb the cost as it was not budgeted for. The FDJJ kept saying the funding was not their concern. On Jan. 13, school board members voted against signing the agreement with the FDJJ.
Pollock, who works for Youth Services International, said at the Feb. 10 meeting, “I’m here to voice my concerns and disappointment with the Hamilton County School Board.”
Pollock said he wanted to meet with the board earlier, but was advised not to because there were so many people involved and so much negotiation going on that it might further delay the process. One of his concerns was that the school board failed to take action for all of the citizens of Hamilton County.
“If we had started getting kids on Jan. 13, as we were supposed to, we would have 25 youth in the program now, and if you requested an alternate FTE count, by that time, you would have all 40 kids registered and admitted to the program,” Pollock told the board.
Pollock also wanted to clear up a misconception.
“The idea that we transfer students out of the program during FTE week, and then after FTE week bring them back, that is not true and that is not factual,” said Pollock.
He said he thought he knew where that idea came from, which goes back to when Harry Pennington was superintendent. Pollock said the former Panther facility at that time was down by eight students when FTE week came around. He said he was asked by Pennington and the lead teacher if it was possible to hold students in the program longer until the FTE count was completed.
“I informed them then, that is against the law, we cannot do that,” Pollock said. “When a kid ends his commitment, we have to release him.”
Pollock said there was a question posed by the school board and Supt. Moffses at their January board meeting, where they wondered if there were going to be 40 employees at the new JYTC.
“Yes, there will be 42 employees housed at JYTC,” Pollock told the board. “We have an annual operating budget, for payroll only, of $1.4 million.”
Aside from that, Pollock said they spent nearly $50,000 with Greg Taylor Construction and $3,000 at Jasper Hardware, and they had contracts with Foodway and NAPA.
“If you’re concerned about Hamilton County, then you would allow this facility to open, so that we can continue to be paid for what the state has paid us to do,” Pollock told the board.
Vocational instructor Dean Smith, who is an employee of Home Builders Institute (HBI), a subcontractor for the FDJJ, said he was one of the 42 employees who hoped to teach the kids at the JYTC a trade, so that they could have skills to re-enter society.
“I know that this is being held up by a funding issue,” Smith said. “These children, unfortunately, somehow or another, have been dropped...been under the radar per se through the school. It would be wrong for us as a community, and us as a board to allow that to happen again. By not funding this, in retrospect, is allowing them to stay under the radar. As an employee and a member of this tri-county community, I would like to encourage you guys to re-think it and to understand that there’s a lot at stake.”
Amy Crider, a 15-year resident of Jennings, was to serve as facilities nurse at JYTC. She has been with the FDJJ for five years.
“I just want to urge you guys to sign the contract,” she said to the board. “I know the positive impact that the FDJJ system has put on Florida’s kids. Many of them, they just want a home. They just want parents to love and attend to them. Many of them have come from negative backgrounds, some positive, and they just need the positive reinforcement we can give them.”
Crider said the JYTC already had agreements with Amazing Smiles Dentistry, Dr. Rana’s office and the Hamilton County health department.
“So, there’s more money that will be coming into the county,” she said. “The staff at JYTC has been training hard and we’re ready to open and start impacting positively the youth of this community and of Florida.”
School district negotiations
Moffses explained that during the negotiations, FDJJ asked to see a breakdown of previous operating costs of the Panther facility, because they didn’t believe the school district was losing money. Moffses provided it to them.
In 2009-10, Moffses said there was a loss of $118,880.93 to operate the Panther facility. He said he sympathized with all the JYTC employees, but he stood firm on his opinion that the contract should never have been awarded until the cooperative agreement was in place.
As a solution to the issue, Moffses said since the FDJJ has the ability to lease, he sent a letter to them asking them to transfer the property where the JYTC sits to the school district. Once it became school district property, the FDJJ could then lease the property for the cost difference.
“In other words, FDJJ can lease that facility for what we know the loss will be,” said Moffses. “We are waiting on a response from them. It’s actually a win-win. FDJJ will be able to open the facility and we’ll be able to maintain and not lose money. We’ll wait and see how that pans out.”
According to Pollock, the FDJJ tired of all the back and forth negotiations with the school district and made the decision to scrap the project on Feb. 13 and go elsewhere.
“They can’t bear it anymore,” Pollock said.
At 10 a.m. on Friday, Feb. 14, Pollock made the official announcement to his staff that they no longer have a job.
Supt. Moffses said by phone on Feb. 14, that he had not yet been contacted by the FDJJ on their decision.
“If that’s their decision, I’m disappointed,” said Moffses. “We’ve done everything we could to try to get the facility open.”
Hamilton County Judge Sonny Scaff also said by phone that he had not yet been notified, but that he was aware of the funding issues the school district was facing.
Sheriff Harrell Reid said he hadn’t heard yet, either.
“I thought it was going to be an opportunity for some of our folks to have a job,” said Reid. “I’m sorry it’s not opening.”
The FDJJ is now looking at opening an alternate facility in either Hastings or Bristol, according to Pollock.