Collaboratives differ in scope of duties, number of participants

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 11, 2003

The Freeborn County Family Services Collaborative’s full-time facilitator and lower level of federal funding than some neighboring counties has made it a target of criticism from one county commissioner, but those familiar with the collaboratives say it’s an apples-to-oranges comparison.

Commissioner Dan Belshan has questioned the need for a full-time facilitator for the collaborative, when neighboring Steele and Waseca counties only pay for part-time facilitators.

Belshan said the Freeborn County collaborative took in $262,000 last year and spent 24 percent of it on overhead costs, including more than $50,000 for facilitator services. By comparison, Steel and Waseca counties spent $37,500 and $19,000, respectively, on facilitators and other overhead costs. Waseca’s 2002 budget was $359,000 and Steele’s was $501,714, Belshan said.

Email newsletter signup

But Human Services Director Darryl Meyer, who is on the Freeborn County collaborative’s joint-powers board, said the bodies in the three counties serve different purposes and approach federal funding differently.

He pointed out that Steele County’s collaborative is strictly a children’s mental health collaborative, whereas Freeborn County’s is a family services collaborative that also handles the duties of a children’s mental health collaborative.

Both types of collaboratives are eligible for federal dollars through the local collaborative time study program, which pays a certain percentage of costs stemming from casework with children who are at risk of being removed from their homes.

In addition, Steele and Waseca counties are both part of a tri-county mental health center, which provides the facilitator for both counties at a lower cost.

While the other counties’ efforts through their collaboratives are more limited, Freeborn County’s collaborative has been, from the start, an effort to get schools and other public agencies to work more closely together on a range of issues, from curbing head lice to implementing mentoring programs, Meyer said. Much of the Freeborn County facilitator’s work is in those areas, serving as a go-between among several agencies, rather than simply administrating the time-study money, he said.

&uot;There’s other functions the position performs that shouldn’t be classified as administrative costs,&uot; Meyer said.

He said the joint-powers board and a citizen steering committee have determined they want the local collaborative performing those tasks, and that the higher cost of facilitation is worth it.

&uot;They’re all so different,&uot; said Marilyn Koprowski, facilitator of the Freeborn County collaborative, of the collaboratives in different counties. &uot;There is no way to compare them.&uot;

The Freeborn County collaborative’s percentage spent on overhead is high partly because the amount of money coming in through the time-study program is lower than neighboring counties. Meyer said the way collaboratives define who participates in the program is the biggest factor in determining how much money comes in.

The state defines a qualifying participant as an employee of public health, a school district or community corrections who spends at least half their time working on case-management for at-risk youth. The definition of &uot;case management&uot; varies from place to place.

In Steele County, the collaborative counts all its public-school special-education teachers as participants. Bob Steele, who works with the Steele County and Waseca County collaboratives, said the counties believe those teachers fit the state’s definition, but acknowledged that other collaboratives don’t.

&uot;Some schools qualify a lot of people, others not,&uot; Steele said.

Meyer said Steele County’s greater fund-raising power stems mostly from its more liberal interpretation of the law.

&uot;The only way there’s going to be a definitive determination is if there’s going to be a federal audit,&uot; Meyer said. &uot;We’re certainly certainly not in a position where we’re going to ask the federal government to come in and look at how other counties are handling it.&uot;

The employer &045; in this case, the school districts &045; makes the decision about who is included as a participant by the way they define the jobs, Meyer said. The Albert Lea, Glenville-Emmons and Alden-Conger districts are all part of the Freeborn County collaborative, and none include all their special-education teachers as participants in the time-study program.

&uot;That seems to be the biggest difference &045; how they’re interpreting the case-management activity,&uot; said Koprowksi.

Belshan said the collaborative should try to get as much funding as it can.

&uot;I realize that many counties are running their collaboratives differently from ours,&uot; Belshan said in a written statement. &uot;I think the Freeborn County Family Collaborative should receive whatever funding the state and federal guidelines allow and whatever it is legally entitled to get. If that means reviewing procedures with the state, or restructuring to capture more funding for programs with less administrative expense, we should do whatever we can to get the highest percentage of the funding to the programs for which the money is intended.&uot;

Koprowski has turned in her resignation and will be moving out of the country, and the collaborative board has already resolved to employ the new facilitator for fewer hours. Meyer said the new facilitator will work roughly the equivalent four-fifths of a full-time job.