You Paid For It: Governor signs diluted salary cap for private foster care executives

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Governor Rick Scott has signed legislation that limits the salary of private organization executives DCF pays for contracted social services such as foster care.

But don’t get too excited. The impact of that belt-tightening law has been considerably watered down compared to the original legislation that would have ensured private social services providers didn’t bring home a taxpayer-funded paycheck bigger than Florida’s DCF Secretary Mike Carroll.

The bill signed by Scott on Friday now limits private executive pay to 150 percent of Carroll’s $140,539 salary.

That means executives of private organizations contracted by DCF can still make as much as $210,808 a year in taxpayer dollars — and their private organizations can throw in unlimited extra pay and bonuses from non-government sources such as public donations.

Eckerd Kids pays its Hillsborough Executive Director Jodi Grutza about $176,436.

The legislation won’t even touch the $746,000 a year that Grutza’s boss, Eckerd Kids CEO David Dennis brings home for overseeing foster care in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco Counties and publicly-funded social services in a number of other states. Dennis apparently doesn’t meet the narrow definition of a “community-based care lead agency administrative employee” as spelled out in the bill.

Eckerd board member Joseph Clark who also chairs the Hillsborough foster care board blasted 8 On Your Side reports on executive compensation during Tuesday’s meeting, but didn’t want to discuss the new state salary cap or the $746,000 annual pay of Eckerd CEO David Dennis after the meeting adjourned.

“If you have any additional questions about that we’d be glad to answer them if you’d submit it in writing,” Clark said.

We did submit our questions in writing several times to Eckerd Chief of Staff Martin Peters Tuesday as well as repeatedly calling Peters at Eckerd’s corporate offices in Clearwater. We’re still waiting for a response.

The nine lines of salary cap language buried in the 97-page child welfare bill signed by Governor Scott Friday may sound good but accomplishes little to rein in how Florida spends tax dollars on Eckerd or other private contractors hired by DCF.

Meanwhile, Eckerd Kids Hillsborough Executive Director Jody Grutza reported Tuesday she has stopped the bleeding of a $2.3 million dollar foster care budget deficit this year in Hillsborough and has balanced the budget thanks to extra state money thrown in by DCF to cover added expenses this year. The Legislature has also appropriated additional taxpayer cash to cover next year’s Eckerd budget for foster care. Clark praised Eckerd’s progress at Tuesday’s meeting.

“We are truly a social profit organization,” Clark said.

Yet, serious challenges remain. According to records released by Grutza’s staff Friday, the annual turnover for Eckerd’s foster care case manager subcontractors is 58 percent, and nearly one-third of those workers deal with 26 or more children at a time. That caseload is supposed to be around 17. Eckerd has authorization for 200 caseworkers but there are only 165 now delivering foster care services. Grutza insists more case workers are in the pipeline but training takes time.

 

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