On Nov. 4, Palm Beach County voters face an important decision:
“Shall the Children’s Services Council of Palm Beach County, which provides early learning and reading skills, development, treatment, preventative and other children’s services in Palm Beach County, be reauthorized to continue in existence as a district with voter-approved taxing authority… ?”
The Post recommends that all voters enthusiastically say “Yes.”
Regardless of whether you have children — regardless of whether you are aware of it — you have benefited from the services provided by the Palm Beach County Children’s Services Council for the past 27 years.
The council enables low-wage workers to keep their jobs by funding 17,000 children’s child care and after-care scholarships. It helps families whose toddlers aren’t meeting normal milestones to connect with support services at the earliest possible age, to ensure they have the best possible future. It connects poor and at-risk women and teens to prenatal care, enables them to take positive parenting classes, and connects them with nutrition and mental health support, if needed.
A “no” vote on reauthorization would mean the demise of the council, and an abrupt end to programs that make Palm Beach County a safer, more humane, more compassionate place to raise families.
That the council now faces this peril speaks to the current climate of political partisanship. In 2010, a year when tea party small-government fervor seized the Florida Legislature, the state decided to “hold accountable,” i.e. put at risk, the special taxing districts that pay for children’s services, by forcing them to go back to voters to argue for their continued existence.
What prompted this, in part, was outrage by a few elected officials that one of the state’s children’s services councils, elsewhere in Florida, had planned for a new building and decided to contract with Planned Parenthood to provide family planning services to women with new babies, for the well-being of the children.
Some good will come of this moment if the CSC is reauthorized, and in the process emerges leaner, more efficient and more responsive to the changing community’s needs. Since the Legislature passed the reauthorization law, the council has lowered its tax rate every year.
In 2014-15, Palm Beach County property owners will be assessed 0.6745 per $1,000 by the CSC. For a homesteaded property valued at $250,000, that equates to about $135 a year, or around $11 a month.
It’s hard to deny that the agency has a building that’s larger than it needs, in part because it had planned to move in with United Way of Palm Beach County. That agency opted to move elsewhere, so the CSC is using the extra space to house partnering agencies under the same roof, and to offer community meeting rooms.
Although it charges nowhere near the statutorily allowed 1 mill, the agency clearly could be more frugal. It supports several executives with six-figure salaries. It has on staff about 100 people, most of them contract managers and programming researchers whose jobs are to identify the most effective early childhood and early learning programming nationwide. But distaste for an oversized building or somewhat inflated salaries don’t justify a “no” vote, considering the damage that would be done to working poor families and public safety if the CSC were to disappear.
It’s hard to imagine that anyone would really want to take away access to after-school programs, or summer camp and swimming lesson vouchers, or end abuse prevention screenings and social work.
A “yes” vote on countywide Question 1 ensures those services will continue to benefit another generation, and that Palm Beach County remains one of the best places to live in Florida.