Escambia Children’s Trust Gets A Big Thumbs Up
A majority of voters in Escambia County have decided to establish a new Children’s Services Council to be called the “Escambia Children’s Trust." The ballot initiative also authorizes the annual levy of a half-mill property tax to fund additional programs and services aimed at improving the lives of children and families.
“We had a lot of hope and faith in our Escambia County voters and they really came through for us,” said Kimberly Krupa, one of the chief advocates of the Escambia Children’s Trust.
She says they were delighted with the 61% voter approval, which is significantly more than the simple majority required. She believes the passage is a recognition of the glaring issues facing kids and families, and the opportunity to really lift up the community over the long-term.
Krupa, executive director of Achieve Escambia, credits their election victory to the combination of their efforts over the past 18 months to educate residents through Escambia Children's Trust Facebook Live presentations, mailers, billboards, and TV and radio spots, featuring a broad coalition of supporters.
“So many of us wonder what can we do, that we feel hopeless in the face of poverty and lack of education. This is something we can do. We can support the Children’s Trust,” she proclaims.
Other prominent backers include Keith Hoskins from Navy Federal Credit Union; Pastor Lonnie Wesley from Greater Little Rock Baptist Church; Sheriff David Morgan; and Stacey Kostevicki, director of Gulf Coast Kids’ House.
“Many of them have been driving home this message of things like school readiness, school to prison juvenile arrests, for decades,” stated Krupa.
“It is just the right message at the right time. Families are hurting in ways that we’ve never seen before in our community. We are sky-high in youth incarceration and child abuse. At the same time, people are fed up. We are tired of Escambia County dragging Florida down.”
Now that the campaign is over and the referendum has won voter approval, Krupa details the next steps needed to get the Escambia Children’s Trust up and running, with all actions this point forward under Florida Sunshine laws.
“The first step is to organize the oversight board and bring that table together, so they can start making those decisions, under citizens watch/public oversight; to be able to order up the Needs Assessment that needs to be done in the first quarter of 2021 and begin connecting the strategic planning sessions with citizen input throughout 2021,” Krupa said.
The composition of the 10-member oversight board, mandated by state statute, includes five from county leadership.
“Our new Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Timothy Smith,” Krupa began.
She adds that the Juvenile Court judges need to appoint a representative. Appointed members of the Escambia County School Board and Escambia County Commission will hold other seats. Additionally, the circuit Administrator of Florida Department of Children and Families will make up the Children’s Services Council in Escambia.
After those positional board members are set, the next step is the appointment of five community members. That process will commence once the Escambia County Commission puts out the call for applicants.
“We have a model in Alachua County, Gainesville, passed in 2018. Their county commission did an RFA, Request For Applications, and received more than 70 for those five seats. So, that’s going to be the process to fill those citizen seats, which is the other five,” Krupa explained.
After the application period closes, the county commission will send their recommendations to Gov. Ron DeSantis, who will make the appointments.
The half-mill ad valorem tax that will support the Escambia Children’s Trust will be assessed for 10 years beginning in the 2022 tax year. It’s expected to generate about $8 million a year.
“Now, we’re not going to have any cash on hand until February of 2022. So, you know, a lot of the fundraising that happened during the 2020 campaign, you know private funding is going to pay for the activities that happen next year; we’re going to stand all of that up independent of tax payer dollars,” she said. “That way we can hit the ground running in February and have a fully fleshed out Children’s Services Council, so there’s no further delay.”
Krupa is ready for the hard work ahead, noting that the Escambia Children’s Trust aligns with the mission of Achieve Escambia to better the lives of children in the county from cradle to career.
“The part I’ve been looking forward to is today, and I’m so validated that Escambia voters agree that this is needed and that we’re going to give this a try for the next 10 years,” she exclaimed.
Prior to the 2020 General Election, nine Florida counties had enacted Children’s Services Councils. With passage of the Children’s Trust referendum in Escambia and a similar ballot initiative in Leon that number increases to 11.