$116,000 repaid for child care

Child care providers work overtime to fix the overpayment problems.

Published May 16, 2007

Hernando and Pasco child care providers were overpaid a total of $116,000 for prekindergarten and child care under the former executive director's watch. The good news: They've already repaid the money.

"I wouldn't say it was Jo-Ann's fault," said Lisa Hammond, chairwoman of the Pasco-Hernando Early Learning Coalition, which until last week was headed by Jo-Ann K. Fuller.

Fuller was asked to resign after staffers complained about management issues, including the overtime they had to work to sort out the overpayment issues.

"But the board was never informed that this was happening, all this overtime being incurred trying to resolve it," Hammond said.

In Hernando, problems centered around the voluntary prekindergarten program. The county's 31 providers are paid in advance each month, based on a formula that takes into account the number of children. If a child drops out, the payment has to be adjusted the following month.

The overpayments totaled about $76,000, Hammond said. But the agency that mails the checks, Childhood Development Services, had already begun adjusting reimbursements over the past few months. Providers will not have to pay back additional money when the fiscal year ends June 30, Hammond said.

In Pasco, the problem was in a payment called the "wraparound rate." That's the money child care centers receive for poor kids who still need care after prekindergarten ends for the day. It comes from a different state pot than prekindergarten money.

Centers in Pasco were all paid the "gold seal" rate. That's the name given to centers that hold extra accreditation. Those centers are supposed to receive 20 percent more than those that don't hold the accreditation.

But a clerical error caused all 25 centers to get the extra money, Hammond said. That error meant an extra $40,000 was sent. That has also been resolved, Hammond said.

The coalition board will meet again May 30 and discuss ways to prevent future mistakes, Hammond said.

She wants the agency that provides the checks to be monitored more often. It now is checked twice a year.

She also wants to review the contract, though she does not think the problems rise to the level that necessitate replacing Childhood Development Services.

Hammond also wants to provide more training for child-care center owners so they can keep better track of prekindergarten attendance and also improve communication between the coalition staff and Childhood Development Services.

"VPK voluntary prekindgarten has really been a different animal," she said. "I can see where there's been a fair amount of confusion."

Colleen Wolfe, owner of Sugar Plum First Class child- care center in Hudson, said she's relieved that they don't owe any more money.

"We get paid so little to begin with, the possibility that we'd have to give (more) back was unbelievable," she said.

Lisa Buie can be reached at (813) 909-4604 or toll free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 4604. Her e-mail address is buie@sptimes.com.