D.R.: Tale of two columns | VailDaily.com

D.R.: Tale of two columns

Don Rogers
Vail CO, Colorado

Last week, we published columns by Butch Mazzuca and Kathleen Forinash that looked in detail at the county’s role in trying to improve child care.

Mazzuca, a retired business executive with a longstanding interest in child-care issues, argued that the commissioners are about to violate the voters’ will last fall in defeating the “nanny” tax. Allocating more funds on such programs from existing revenue would be wrong, in Mazzuca’s view. He calls it a Trojan horse.

Forinash, the county’s health and human services director, details the problems and explains the spending plans to address them.

You can read their columns on our Web site, at http://www.vaildaily.com, in the commentary section, and you should. The commissioners are expected to vote on the plan in the next couple of weeks. Forinash’s “Why kids, families need funding” was posted March 2. Mazzuca’s “A Trojan horse” was posted Feb. 28.

Both are interesting not only for their positions but the facts and interpretations they use to support their opposing arguments.

Mazzuca’s argument about the voters’ will is weakened by the cold fact that many who opposed the tax said the county should use funds already in its budget for the programs.

Also, the county has for years funded child-care programs. What’s so different? There’s nothing secretive or nefarious about it.

Not that Butch or anyone else has to agree with decisions to spend county dollars trying to improve the problems with have with child care.

Fair enough if you disagree with that spending. But the voters didn’t vote on whether the county commissioners should exercise their best judgment. They voted on whether to create a dedicated tax, no more and no less.

Forinash’s points do lose a little bit of ground in Commissioner Arn Menconi’s misleading statements about child abuse reports, as pointed out by Mazzuca. Does he not understand certain facts or does he exaggerate purposely sometimes? It’s a fair question. He wouldn’t be the first politician to do so.

Menconi himself excacerbates the controversy by seeming lately to be a lame duck rather desperately searching for a legacy.

Maybe he should step back from the spotlight a bit so his colleagues can step up, or not. A shrewder politician might see that and take pains to separate his name from the issue when the two become so linked. I sometimes think many who would otherwise support the cause are not eager to inflate Menconi’s ego.

This issue shouldn’t be about Menconi. It’s bigger than that.

Here are the columns:

A Trojan horse

Butch Mazzuca

February 28, 2007

I was an opponent of last November’s “Kiddie Tax” because the ballot language was vague and the referendum’s scope and long-term ramifications were unclear. I also felt that adding 65 to 70 million dollars to our tax bill over the next 15 years was too much of a burden for ill-defined programs.

The voters obviously agreed because the referendum failed by a whopping 58-percent-to-42-percent margin.

Nevertheless, the Board of County Commissioners is considering the new Early Childhood Strategic Plan that, according to a recent Vail Daily article, would increase the county’s 2007 early-childhood-development spending by $1,643,840.

But that’s the tip of the iceberg. Those dollars increase to $5,305,974 in 2008, $4,417,773 in 2009, $4,442,555 in 2010 and $4,556,344 in 2011 for a grand total of $20,366,486 over five years.

Not included in those numbers are the cost of land for four new early childhood projects, a literacy program, a “Create Wealth” program, a family violence intervention program, child-safety needs grants, a parents resources program, a family violence prevention program, the expansion of the Incredible Years Program and social and emotional skills development programs.

After the election, Commissioner Menconi said he was surprised 1A failed, but looked forward to working with newly elected Commissioner Sara Fisher on early childhood development.

The commissioner knew there would be an approximate $2 million surplus in the county’s upcoming annual audit, so “finding” early childhood money for 2007 wouldn’t be overly difficult. However, in subsequent years these expenditures would come from the county’s general fund, which has the identical financial effect on the taxpayer as if Referendum 1A had passed.

Believing that Arn wanted to increase the county’s early childhood budget, last December I asked what specific programs he had in mind, and how much he thought they would cost the taxpayers. He responded, “I can’t tell you what they are, I do have it as a draft document right now, and that is something that I’m hoping that we’ll all present to you in January. But let’s use a million dollars as a rough cost …”

Perhaps Arn misinterpreted the document’s projections when he estimated a million dollars, but what really piqued my interest was how he justified the need for that additional spending. Arn said, “… one fact that concerns me greatly is that there’s 250 kids who have been found abused and neglected in that report in one year in Eagle County and I think it’s unconscionable to allow that type of abuse and neglect to go on in Eagle County and us not try to find some type of solution for it.”

I applaud any focus on child abuse, but if the raison d’être for additional early childhood spending is the prevention of child abuse, then why doesn’t the proposed plan allocate a greater proportion of its funds (16.6 percent in 2007 and 6 percent in subsequent years) towards that objective?

Also worthy of mention is the fact that there were not 250 cases of child abuse and neglect in Eagle County in 2005 ” there were 21.

We can speculate that Commissioner Menconi misread or inadvertently misstated the county’s early childhood report, which states there were 250 reports of suspected child abuse and neglect involving children under the age of 9 in 2005.

A single case of child abuse is one too many in Eagle County; nevertheless, there’s a significant difference between 250 suspected cases and 21 confirmed cases of abuse.

So I asked Kate Forinash, the county’s dedicated and well-informed Director of Health and Human Services, to clarify the matter for me.

She advised there were 376 cases of “reported” child abuse in Eagle County in 2005; of those, 250 involved children under the age of 9 (the upper limit of early childhood).

However, only 21 out of 376 actually met the county’s criteria of abuse and neglect and were reported to the state of Colorado.

Kate explained that while only a small percentage (5.6 percent) of the reported incidents meet the county’s definition of “abuse and neglect” because these reports come from mandatory reporters ” such as physicians, early childhood providers, school personnel, and law enforcement officials ” they are considered strong indicators of the need for services.

She also advised that during the years that statistics were available, Eagle County

averaged 315 reports and 18 confirmed cases of child abuse and neglect per year ” statistics the commissioners might want to use as a baseline to measure the effectiveness of the county’s existing child-abuse prevention programs.

Further obfuscating the matter are statements conflating the county’s early childhood and Youth and Family Services spending, with the federal and state matching funds. So, for purposes of this commentary, all dollar figures referred to herein are exclusively county-tax dollars.

In the meantime, the voters should know that the board already increased the county’s 2007 early childhood budget by almost 26 percent last December, which brings us to where we are today.

Moving forward, if the commissioners approve this latest strategic plan, it will yet again increase early childhood spending, but this time by an average of 956 percent every year for the next five years.

This commentary is not about early childhood programs; rather it’s about a legitimate vote that took place last November and events that have transpired since. If the commissioners approve this plan, they are in effect telling the voters of Eagle County that regardless of last November’s election results regarding 1A, the votes of three commissioners now outweighs the votes of thousands of Eagle County taxpayers who said NO to additional taxation.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that once governmental spending of this magnitude begins, it will be almost impossible to stop. Arn needs just one vote from either Peter or Sarah to allow this Trojan horse into our valley. Here’s hoping those two have the character and integrity not to give it to him.

Butch Mazzuca, a local Realtor and ski instructor, writes a biweekly column for the Daily. He can be reached at bmazz68@earthlink.net.

Why kids, families need funding

Kate Forinash

March 2, 2007

Over the past few weeks, I spent quite a bit of time speaking with Vail Daily columnist Butch Mazzuca about early childhood programs. While I sincerely respect his opinion on the issue, I feel compelled to speak to his selective use of information regarding the early childhood proposal and current levels of service for children and families.

The proposed five-year early childhood strategic plan is clear about goals, needs, outcomes, program efforts, and costs. It is this detail and clarity that focuses discussion about the value of our children and families and just how much should we invest in efforts that will result in healthy, competent, caring, educated members of our society.

Let’s clarify the needs:

– We are not meeting the needs of working families for child care. Our current licensed child-care capacity meets only 19 percent of the need for infant and toddler care; only 50 percent of the need for preschool care; and only 35 percent of the need for after-school care.

– We are not meeting the needs of children for quality care. Only 7 percent of our early childhood teachers have a degree in early childhood. Teacher turnover rates range from 37 percent to 54 percent. Children need qualified and consistent caregivers.

– We are not meeting the needs for affordable child care. Most working families spend as much on child care as on housing.

– We are not meeting the needs for health care. One in four of our families is uninsured and lacks a consistent health-care provider. Nearly one in four third-graders have untreated tooth decay.

– We are not reaching children at risk of developmental delays. Child health screenings are reaching only one in seven of the children at-risk with early intervention services. Ten percent of the school-aged population receive special education services.

– We have children and families at risk of family breakdown and violence in our community. The Health and Human Services Department receives about 250 reports of suspected child abuse and neglect each year regarding children under the age of 9. These children may have been left alone, may be ill-fed, ill-clothed, may not be seeing a doctor when they are ill, may be physically mistreated, may be withdrawn in school, may be violent with other children. There are as many unique situations of risk as there are children who come to our attention too late.

The “confirmed” reports are those situations where there is confirmed evidence of serious neglect and abuse, where the ongoing safety of the child is in jeopardy.

The Early Childhood Initiative on the November ballot asked for a 1.5 mill-levy increase that would result in approximately $3.6 million a year over 15 years for “improving the quality, availability, and affordability of early childhood services and facilities.”

The Early Childhood Initiative was based on an 18-month study of needs and gaps in service conducted by a 100-member community task force. The community task force not only measured needs, it proposed proven programs that would close gaps and produce effective outcomes for children and families. The task force estimated the cost of those programs. That estimate is how the Early Childhood Initiative came up with the 1.5-mill-levy request for additional funds.

When the ballot initiative did not succeed at the polls, the Early Childhood Council tackled the development of a five-year plan to close the gaps in these services. The plan was presented to the Board of County Commissioners for consideration on Feb. 20.

The Eagle County Early Childhood strategic plan is based goals for our county’s children and families for quality early care and development, access to health care, and programs to support parents and caregivers in meeting the needs of their children.

This plan includes what could be accomplished in 2007 by building on current community resources. The plan also suggests steps for subsequent years.

The 2007 early childhood proposal focuses on maintaining our current child-care capacity, providing incentives for teacher education and quality care, and reaching children and families at risk of developmental issues or potential child abuse and neglect at an earlier age. Incremental increases in these program efforts were estimated to grow from an annual cost in 2007 of $1,643,840 to an annual cost in 2011 of $3,195,290. Other potential programs, like family violence prevention, do not carry a cost estimate because they represent a collaborative approach to an issue through the Early Childhood Council member organizations ” much like the integration of family literacy components into all early childhood programs.

The five-year plan included a proposal for the construction of four infant toddler centers ” each caring for 80 children ” over a four-year period. Each center is estimated to cost $2.5 million, plus land. Funding for the construction of child-care centers could be supported by partnerships with towns, employers, private funders, and child care providers. It is the construction of these much-needed child-care centers that drives half of the five-year projected cost for a comprehensive early childhood effort throughout Eagle County.

Eagle County’s current early childhood programs include: Early Head Start, the Women Infant and Children’s nutrition program, prenatal care, child-care assistance for low-income working families, and some grants to providers for child-care capacity and quality. These programs represent state and federal programs in early childhood and are primarily funded by special grants to the county. In 2006, the total cost of these programs was $1,474,132. In 2007, the total cost of these programs is budgeted at $1,473,718. The county’s share of these programs increased from $337,105 in 2006 to $423,476 in 2007 ” that is the 25 percent increase in current programs to which Butch refers. Federal and state funding for these programs is limited. The county has assumed the additional inflationary costs for staff merit increases, health insurance, transportation, and other nonpersonnel expenses.

Current early childhood programs at Health and Human Services did not receive additional staff in the 2007 budget.

Eagle County’s current child welfare programs address families with reported child abuse and neglect. Child welfare services are primarily funded through state and federal sources ” $816,323 out of the $991,149 budget for 2007 are state and federal dollars. Increased county efforts for intervention and treatment of reported child abuse and neglect will continue to be leveraged with state and federal dollars and are not included in the community early childhood proposal. The commissioners have approved an additional professional social caseworker position in 2008.

We have shared extensive details on the county’s financial and program help for services with children and families with all who have inquired. We have shared the details of the proposed five-year plan for early childhood in public hearings and in the press.

The Board of County Commissioners will make a decision regarding the first year of the early childhood proposal sometime in the next few weeks. Please make your voices heard to the commissioners, and to your neighbors.

Kate Forinash is the director of the Eagle County Health and Human Services Department and a co-chair of the Eagle County Early Childhood Council.

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