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PACE program for troubled girls takes budget wallop
By David DeCamp and Steve Bousquet, Times Staff Writers
Published March 13, 2008
Eighth-grader Brittany "D.J." Niquette, 14, and sophomore Jameka Evans, 17, both of St. Petersburg, share a joke with other students while writing similes for English class at PACE Center for Girl's in Pinellas Park on Saturday. There are 16 PACE centers in Florida, including several in bay area counties.
[Martha Rial | Times]
TALLAHASSEE - Among the losers as Florida lawmakers cut the state's budget Wednesday: troubled teenage girls in the Tampa Bay area.
The PACE Centers for Girls, a nonprofit that helps runaway, delinquent and truant teens, saw its budget for the remainder of the fiscal year cut by nearly one-fifth on Wednesday as lawmakers voted to reduce state spending by $512-million to cope with lower-than-expected tax collections. Gov. Charlie Crist, who can veto line items, said he will sign the bill, HB 7009 which applies to the state fiscal year that ends June 30.
Almost no sector of state operations was spared. Education will absorb much of the cuts. But so too will dozens of other state programs and services.
For example, tucked deep inside a 110-page list is a $463,166 cut to PACE, a statewide program with 16 centers, including several in Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco that serve 125 girls ages 12 to 18. PACE stands for Practical Academic Cultural Education.
PACE, which receives state money through the Department of Juvenile Justice, says the reduction from its $11.5-million annual budget will mean fewer outreach programs and layoffs of several employees, including a Pinellas County outreach coordinator.
Counselor Stephanie Kelly, 26, who works in the Lealman Intermediate School in St. Petersburg, will be unemployed April 1.
"All of a sudden, you find out your post no longer exists," Kelly said. "I just feel so bad."
Kelly gives young girls advice, stokes their self-esteem, teaches them how to manage money and generally tries to help their troubled lives. She bought the girls pizza and prizes with her own money. Some cried when she broke the news she was losing her job, she said.
"It's tough," said Sally Zeh, PACE's program director for Pinellas. "It's really counter-productive."
The pain is likely not over. Much deeper budget cuts lie ahead, as lawmakers seek to cut spending by up to $3-billion for 2008-09 in response to a downward economic spiral.
"We're going to be looking at some pretty challenging reductions," said Sen. Lisa Carlton, R-Osprey, the Senate's chief budget writer. So far, Republican leaders have discounted other options, from raising new revenue to raiding cash reserves.
To absorb the cuts, the Pinellas PACE Center, which serves 53 girls, will cut $14,400 in spending over the final three months of the year. Hillsborough County's PACE Center will make the same cuts, and the Pasco center will absorb $5,000 in cuts.
PACE cuts will be deeper elsewhere, including closing its center in Polk County. Senior administrative jobs also are expected to be reduced, spokeswoman Mary Marx said.
The current cut will be felt more deeply than it appears because it comes with only three full months left in the fiscal year, Marx said. About $9-million of the budget is already spent, so the reduction amounts to almost a fifth of PACE's plans for the end of the year. The agency will try to do more fundraising, but 53 percent of the budget comes from government funding and much of the rest comes from grants.
Sen. Victor Crist, R-Tampa, who recommended the PACE budget cut, said the program actually fared better than others because lawmakers spared cuts in juvenile justice services at the expense of other programs.
Times staff writer Alex Leary contributed to this report and information from the Associated Press was used. David DeCamp and Steve Bousquet can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com or at (850) 224-7263.