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Joshua Gillin
By Joshua Gillin September 24, 2015

City adds new position, while volunteers and contributions are up

After inheriting a revamped roster of education initiatives, Mayor Rick Kriseman has kept the spirit of the city's Mentors & More program alive and well.

With a month to go before the 2013 primary, Kriseman's predecessor Bill Foster announced a reorganized slate of existing education programs administered by the city and the Pinellas Education Foundation under the banner St. Pete's Promise. The move combined several already extant initiatives like Take Stock in Children, the Top Apple awards, the Corporate Partners program, internship opportunities and the Mayor's Mentors & More.

The mentorship program was started in 2001 by former Mayor Rick Baker, who partnered the city with local schools to recruit and train volunteers from the city, businesses and the community. Those mentors worked with schools as sources for advice, resources, internship opportunities and more, aimed at preparing middle- and high-school students for post-secondary success.

Kriseman initially derided Foster's reorganization into St. Pete's Promise, calling it "a political stunt" that simply shuffled existing programs in an attempt to appear creative. But while Mentors & More doesn't exist on its own, Kriseman's administration has kept pursuing the program's goals and has worked to allocate more resources.

The Pinellas Education Foundation pays for one full-time staffer to work with the city, and splits half the salary and benefits for St. Pete's Promise Director Rich Engwall. The foundation also provides a $25,000 grant for the initiative and money for a third position that is currently vacant. The city kicks in for administrative services like telephone service and office supplies.

New for the city's 2016 fiscal year budget, which was approved by the City Council on Sept. 17, 2015, is more than $96,000 in salary and benefits for a new position called Education and Community Engagement Director. This position will work with Engwall to implement the initiative's goals.

Kriseman communications director Ben Kirby said that in 2015, the program had already topped several milestones.

An additional 96 city employees volunteered to be mentors, on top of the 100 who volunteered in 2014-15. The city also planned an after-school arts program at Campbell Park Elementary that would start on Oct. 1 and be funded by the Loews Don CeSar Beach Resort and the Target Foundation.

Because the mentorship program is under the St. Pete's Promise umbrella now, broader goals are attributed to the entire initiative.

The city's Employee Giving Program had taken in $56,000 from paycheck deductions for Take Stock in Children, up from $44,000 the year before. The Verizon Foundation gave a $20,000 grant for a robotics lab at Bay Point Middle School and the Sembler Company helped Kriseman launch a new anti-bullying campaign.

The mayor's office also started providing mini-grants for service learning, plus a pilot program at St. Petersburg High School that began in September 2015. The goal is to teach students the value of civic service in maintaining a strong community. (We're also tracking a goal to expand service learning to all schools in another promise on the Krise-O-Meter.)

Almost two years into his term as mayor, Kriseman has continued working on the goals of the former Mentors & More program, with St. Pete's Promise gaining momentum — and money in the 2016 budget. We rate this a Promise Kept.

Our Sources

National League of Cities, "St. Petersburg, Fla., Mayor Carries on Predecessor's Education," Aug. 30, 2010

Creative Loafing Tampa Bay, "St. Pete's failing school receives support of city council," March 15, 2014

Tampa Bay Times Gradebook blog, "St. Pete's Promise: new name for old programs?," Aug. 1, 2013

YouTube, "St Pete's Promise Announcement," Aug. 2, 2013

WTSP, "St. Pete's Promise to focus on helping Pinellas students," Aug. 2, 2013

Bay News 9, "Mayor Bill Foster launches St. Pete's Promise," Aug. 2, 2013

Tampa Bay Times Bay Buzz blog, "Kriseman submits his budget," July 7, 2015

Tampa Bay Times, "Rick Kriseman: School solutions must be emphatic, immediate," Aug. 28, 2015

Tampa Bay Times, "Despite protests from worker unions, St. Petersburg City Council approves $224 million budget," Sept. 17, 2015

Tampa Bay Times, "In midst of race, mayor gives schools a boost," Aug. 3, 2013, accessed via Nexis

City of St. Petersburg, Mayor's Mentors & More brochure, accessed Sept. 22, 2015

City of St. Petersburg, "Fiscal Year 2016 Recommended Budget," accessed Sept. 22, 2015

Interview with Ben Kirby, mayor's communications director, Sept. 22-23, 2015

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