Homestead / South Dade

Homestead

Homestead may drop contractor for after-school program

 

Special to the Miami Herald

A nonprofit that provides after-school and summer programs for South Miami-Dade County students has until next summer to vacate its current home.

South Dade Weed and Seed currently holds its program at Homestead’s Phichol Williams Community Center, 951 SW Fourth St. The center is in the southwest district, the city’s least developed.

The nonprofit, which serves about 130 students from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m., has been based in Homestead for 14 years.

But only recently did the program and the city of Homestead move forward with an official contract that would require the nonprofit to pay the city rent for the use of Phichol Williams Community Center. Prior to that, South Dade Weed and Seed did not pay rent to the city as the nonprofit was allowed to use the building though "an informal arrangement," said City Manager George Gretsas.

"We don't do business like that anymore," he added.

On Tuesday night, the City Council voted to allow South Dade Weed and Seed to stay at the center until July 31 at a cost of $1,500 a month and a $1,000 security deposit. The Children’s Trust, a taxpayer-funded agency, has said that it will cover the rent for South Dade Weed and Seed. After July 31, South Dade Weed and Seed has to find a new home. If it fails, the city has committed to find a different provider to run an after-school children’s program at the community center.

Homestead city staff said on Tuesday night that it did not feel comfortable working with the nonprofit. Staff, however, stayed tight-lipped when asked for specifics.

“The relationship has been poor,” said Gretsas. “The Police Department has not been confident in their administrative abilities based on things that occurred and neither is the Parks and Recreation Department.”

Until recently, the Police Department supervised the nonprofit and, at one point, also said it wants to discontinue the program as long as it operates under its current executive director, Gretsas said.

Robin Wright, executive director of South Dade Weed and Seed, said she was “bewildered” when staff said they have not had a good working relationship with her. She says there was never a formal conversation about such issues.

The nonprofit also has financial problems. It operates with a $350,000 annual budget. According to a third-party audit turned in to The Children’s Trust, which provides grants to the nonprofit, South Dade Weed and Seed owes $52,623 to the IRS in payroll taxes. The nonprofit also has recurring net losses and negative equity.

Wright said that she had a staffer who did not mail out checks reflecting payroll taxes to the IRS. The nonprofit’s budget could not afford the expense, said Wright.

“There was no theft. It was just negligence,” she said.

The financial mismanagement at the nonprofit prompted the Children’s Trust to withhold its annual grant of $136,476 to South Dade Weed and Seed. Instead, the Children’s Trust board voted to use a middle man, WeCare of South Dade, which will manage the grant money for the nonprofit. This agreement allowed South Dade Weed and Seed to remain open.

At its Tuesday night meeting, the Homestead City Council voted 4-1 to allow South Dade Weed and Seed to remain at Phichol Williams Community Center until July 31 with Councilwoman Judy Waldman dissenting.

“I was not voting against the program. I believe the children need a place to go,” she told the Miami Herald. But “I wasn’t happy with the administrator of the program.”

Tuesday’s decision is temporary until a contract comes in front of the council for a final approval at a future council meeting.

Councilwoman Patricia Fairclough-McCormick made the motion.

“I feel you have a longstanding relationship with the families of the children that you service. If they are happy with you and the program, then who am I to say that they should go somewhere else?" she told Wright at the meeting. "But I also feel that it may be a bad marriage. Staff doesn't feel comfortable with you there because they are not comfortable with the quality of service that you are providing. Why would you want to be somewhere where they are not comfortable with you there?”

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