MERCER COUNTY Officials explain revamped program

Commissioners turned down an offer by the county children's center to take over the family services program.
MERCER, Pa. -- A suspended family center program serving Hermitage and Mercer is set to reopen later this month.
Mercer County Commissioner Olivia Lazor said the program will be handled differently than in the past.
She and the other two commissioners were criticized during Thursday's meeting by Jane Levine Matusick, a family reading specialist who lost her job when the county let the Mercer County Literacy Council take over the program.
Matusick is unhappy because the county declined a request last spring by Mercer County Children's Center to take over the program.
The center had offered to apply for a Family Service System Reform grant to run the program, as well as provide the necessary $50,000 local matching funds. The center is a private nonprofit corporation that provides early intervention, day care and other services.
The family service program had been run since 1998 under a Sharon Family Center grant, which distributed money to the Sharon School District and Hermitage, Mercer and Sharpsville programs.
Offers to run program
Matusick said the combined Hermitage and Mercer program wanted to be independent and learned the children's center was willing to sponsor it.
Commissioners declined the center's offer and accepted Mercer County Head Start's bid to take over the program. Matusick said she recently discovered that Head Start decided not to take the program and that the Mercer County Literacy Council will run it instead.
Lazor, who is the commissioners' liaison to the county's social services, said the deciding factor in awarding the program to the literacy council was a recommendation from the Mercer County Coordinating Council, which is mandated by the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare to oversee reform grant money.
Although the state has approved a grant for the 2002-2003 fiscal year, the Hermitage and Mercer family center program stopped operating June 30. Lazor said she expects it to resume operations by the end of this month.
The revamped program, which serves the Hermitage and Mercer school districts, provides family development specialists who visit families whose children are having trouble with school readiness or other problems. They also link families with other services and agencies.
Families served
The children's center proposal anticipated using the grant to serve 75 to 100 families. Matusick said she thinks that under the literacy council, fewer families will benefit.
Lazor said she could not give a definite number, but estimated that 20 or 25 families will be served this year. She said the program will allow families to have their needs met but in a different way, explaining that specialists will do "a higher-intensity job with families at the outset." She said that more effort than in the past will be directed to measuring the program's success.
Lazor said the budget for 2002-03 fiscal year totals $130,000. Of that amount, $71,000 is provided by the state grant. The additional $59,000 will come from other sources, which may include some Community Development Block Grants.
The largest budget item is $102,000 in wages and benefits for three family specialists.

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