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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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Vocal critic seeks return to Early Learning Coalition
The child advocate wants back on the board.
By LISA BUIE
Published July 9, 2007
To fans, he was a watchdog, a champion for poor families who deal with the fallout from decisions made by more well-heeled folks up the line.
To critics, he was a cancer who needed to be purged from the board of the Pasco Hernando Early Learning Coalition.
But like him or hate him, Dave Marshall is determined not to go away, even though his term ended this year.
Marshall is asking Gov. Charlie Crist to allow him to fill a board seat being vacated by John Druzbik, who resigned. Other applicants so far are Wesley Chapel High coach and teacher Tony Lister and child psychologist Steven Kanakis, who already occupies a board seat with a term that ends in 2010.
"They don't have to like me," said Marshall, 65, an outspoken critic of the coalition's fiscal management since Pasco and Hernando's separate groups merged in 2005. "But they need to realize I've been telling them things that are factual."
Marshall served as chairman of the Pasco County Early Learning Coalition before the merger. Early learning coalitions are charged with overseeing the state's subsidized child care programs for poor families and children in state custody, as well as the voluntary prekindergarten programs open to all Florida children. Hernando merged with Pasco after the state required smaller counties to find partners to save money. Pasco was large enough to stand alone.
Marshall supported the merger at the time but has since expressed deep regret. His harshest criticism was when he joined then-board member Dr. Marc Yacht in opposing a move to pull $228,000 from a Pasco County School District program that provided health screenings and meals to 300 kids in working poor families. The coalition sat on the money and at the end of that fiscal year doled it out in the form of minigrants to private child care providers.
The coalition also ended this fiscal year with a large surplus. Its executive director, the second one since the merger, was forced to resign amid staff complaints about poor management and unpaid overtime. The Ocala-based agency that oversees services to child care providers overpaid them by a total of $116,000, which the providers had to pay back.
Marshall has also criticized the board's lack of transparency with the public and is often quoted by reporters. His outspokenness around the time of the executive director's resignation in May prompted board member Barbara Renczkowski to call for Marshall to step down.
But Marshall said the children need him at a time like this.
"I'm pretty well-informed, and I feel like I need to be sitting there," he said.
Marshall is a longtime child advocate. The Batson-Cook Co. account executive and Air Force veteran served two years on a state public school funding task force in 2000. He has been a tutor to at-risk children and volunteers with his wife as a Guardian ad Litem. He also serves on the Wesley Chapel Elementary School advisory council.
He often peppers his e-mails to reporters with details about activities with his young grandson.
"Somebody has to got to stick up for these kids," he said Friday, recalling with sadness how some children he represents in court carry all their possessions in trash bags.
Marshall applied for the open board seat but wrote the word "chair" on his application. However, that job now belongs to Hernando County resident Lisa Hammond, whose term expires in 2009. Marshall, once chairman of the Pasco group, said his ultimate goal is to get the coalition split into two groups again.
"I think Ms. Hammond has done a very nice job in the face of difficult circumstances," he said. However, he added that she promised in 2006 that there would not be another year-end surplus. And the next year, there was.
"The people responsible for it are still sitting on that board," said Marshall, who noted that he cast a protest vote against the spending spree.
Efforts to reach Hammond were unsuccessful.
Marshall said Hernando's program would probably run fine if it were separated from Pasco's.
Marshall admits he's a political long shot. But he has some powerful backers. Pasco County Commission Chairwoman Ann Hildebrand and Pasco Sheriff Bob White each wrote letters to Crist supporting Marshall's candidacy.
"He has been a strong proponent of doing the right thing and is definitely a super advocate for children's issues," Hildebrand wrote.
White called Marshall "an extremely dedicated and hardworking individual.
"I have no doubt that this coalition has benefited from the efforts of Mr. Marshall in the past and it would be in the best interest of Pasco's children if Mr. Marshall was able to continue in his endeavor by being reappointed to this Board," White wrote.
At the bottom of the typed letter was a handwritten note.