The truth about the future of Happy Workers

Maria Scruggs

Dear Editor:

In a recent letter circulated by COQEBS President Rick Davis, he called for a transparent explanation for why Happy Workers Learning Center’s S.M.A.R.T. board of directors was entering into an agreement that would ultimately transfer all of its assets over to R’Club.  While the letter authored and distributed by Mr. Davis is painful, unorthodox and unethical considering his proposal for Happy Workers to turn its operations over to Lutheran Services of Florida after we had begun negotiations with Art O’Hara, executive director for R’Club, we as a board have no reason not to be transparent!

In Mr. Davis’ opening statement, he asserts that an action by R’Club to take over Happy Workers came after “many years of licensing violations, which no one can deny,” is not accurate. The situation that has resulted in our board giving consideration to the thought of turning over our assets to R’Club came only as a result of four violations that occurred between April 27, 2016, and October 14, 2016.

The violations were considered Class 2 violations that resulted in Happy Workers being placed on probation, actions clearly identified in Florida statute. The licensing probation status was not what caused the board to give consideration to turning over our assets.  Lindsay Carson, CEO of Early Learning Coalition (ELC) utilized a new policy approved by her board last August to threaten the revocation of the Happy Workers School Readiness contract. That action would have put Happy Workers out of business and left our families scrambling for a new school, some of whom were third and fourth generation families.

Even though staff managed to acquire two additional administrative violations while on probation, those violations wouldn’t have revoked Happy Workers license. While the board was poised to continue to fight for this valuable community asset to remain in the hands of the community, it was clear that Mrs. Carson was working hard to garner support against Happy Workers, as evidenced by her appearance at a city council meeting to speak against the institution.

The board was hoping to seek out support from the City of St. Petersburg to make the changes that were needed. It became rather clear that many of whom we were seeking assistance from were either remaining quiet or working in concert to acquire Happy Workers themselves, as in the case of Lutheran Services and Mr. Davis.

Mr. Davis goes on further to state that there are many other questions that have not been answered that should be answered and this should be done in a transparent public fashion. Again Mr. Davis’ assertion appears quite odd considering since I became the chairwoman of the Board in November 2012, Happy Workers has worked diligently to build a broad-based community for support.

We hosted quarterly board recruiting activities, wrote articles, we hosted election nights, we hosted an 85th birthday celebration, all of which created multiple opportunities for COQEBS, Mr. Davis and any other community member to come and work with us to build the support to ensure Happy Workers remained an asset owned by the community.

The six faithful board members that exist today, who have met religiously on the third Tuesday of each month and who worked to ensure our fiscal and governance structure was intact, are the very same ones that stayed the course.

In 2013, in his capacity as chairman of the Community Advisory Committee and president of COQEBS, I personally lobbied Mr. Davis both publicly and privately to ensure that the current Southside CRA plan contained goals that were specific to ensuring that there be a focus on independently owned and faith- based early childhood education centers and homes as an economic development strategy for the Community Redevelopment Area.

Mr. Davis takes credit for the obscure language that mentions early childhood education, but never once publicly or privately lobbied his colleagues on the CAC or city staff for any substantive focus on the independently owned and faith-based early childhood education centers and homes in south St. Petersburg. During this time he did land a job with Lutheran Services.

Mr. Davis goes on further to state that “LSF offered to provide technical assistance and apparently Happy Workers chose to pursue the asset take over reported by R’Club.” Had he not been so involved in surreptitious discussions with city staff regarding Happy Workers, he would have been well aware that as a result of another administrative violation, the ELC was poised to once again revoke Happy Workers school readiness contract, even though the violation would not have resulted in a revocation of our license. As opposed to launching a third fight to retain our School Readiness contract, the board made the very decision they had worked hard for five years to avoid.

As a result, the Happy Workers Learning Center board of directors did what leaders do! We assessed our realities and our priorities based on the following:

• We didn’t have financial support from the City of St. Petersburg in a timely manner that would have afforded us to make necessary changes

• We were certain that in spite of what was being publicly stated, Happy Workers didn’t have the support of the ELC to succeed. At one point an ELC employee who has a child at Happy Workers filed a false complaint during this process, a complaint that if our documentation had not been in ordered would have resulted in a potential Class 1 violation

• It was clear that in spite of our outreach to many community leaders, a narrative was being crafted by some in the community to support our failure

Given our reality, we made a decision that simply created the best win for our babies!

We agreed to enter into a temporary management agreement with R’Club with the long-term goal of them taking ownership of our assets to ensure our families were not disrupted, to ensure that our staff that deserved to keep their jobs had the opportunity to do so, to ensure that the cash flow situation that had deteriorated was salvaged and lastly to ensure that our babies weren’t displaced and that they had the opportunity of receiving a quality preschool education!

Maria L. Scruggs, Chairwoman

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