Options Weighed for Washtenaw Head Start

County commissioners briefed on relinquishing preschool program

Washtenaw County board of commissioners working session (July 21, 2011): As part of a strategy to deal with a projected $17.5 million two-year deficit for 2012-2013, county administrators briefed commissioners about the possibility of eliminating support for Washtenaw Head Start, a program that the county has administered for 46 years.

Pat Horne McGee

Pat Horne McGee, director of Washtenaw County's Head Start program, at the county board's July 21, 2011 working session. (Photo by the writer)

The presentation stressed that Head Start – which serves over 500 preschool children of low-income families in the county – would not be eliminated. Rather, the county would relinquish its status as the program’s federal “grantee,” triggering a process to find a replacement entity. Federal Head Start officials would be responsible for selecting another agency to take over from the county.

The county currently spends about $900,000 each year in support of Head Start, which has a local budget of $4.8 million – the bulk of its funding comes from federal sources. In addition, the county owes $2.68 million in bond payments related to an Ypsilanti facility it built for Head Start in 2002-03.

Seven of the board’s 11 commissioners attended the working session, and several expressed support for exploring the transition. They praised the program, which has been recognized nationally for its performance, but noted that education isn’t part of the county’s core mission. Some suggested that an organization like the Washtenaw Intermediate School District would be a better fit to administer the program.

However, commissioner Ronnie Peterson spoke passionately and at length in defense of the county maintaining its support of Head Start. He said this was the first time he’d heard about the plan, and he criticized the administration for not alerting the board publicly about their intent to jettison the program. County administrator Verna McDaniel noted that she had laid out a schedule of topics for budget-related working sessions at the board’s first budget working session on June 16. Head Start as a general topic had been on that list.

McDaniel pointed out that the board had set priorities and instructed her to review closely all the county programs and services to determine whether the county should continue to offer them, in light of current economic conditions. “At the risk of maybe making some of you uncomfortable, I’m doing just that,” she said. The discussion about Head Start is in that context, she said.

Peterson argued that the board should look at Head Start in relation to other non-mandated programs that receive general fund support. What other programs should be part of the budget discussion? The county funds the Humane Society of Huron Valley, for example, he noted. [Rather than run its own shelter, the county pays $500,000 annually to the HSHV to provide animal shelter services mandated by the state.] Peterson said he loves his pets, but at the end of the day, Head Start is more important.

Washtenaw Head Start: Presentation

Kelly Belknap, interim deputy administrator, gave the formal presentation on tentative plans for the county to pull out as the responsible party for the Washtenaw Head Start program. She stressed that county officials are considering this option in the context of a broad review of county programs and services. As the county faces a projected $17.5 million two-year deficit for 2012-2013, the administration is reviewing whether some programs or services that the county now provides would be better offered by another entity. Questions and concerns raised by commissioners will help guide the administration, she said.

Head Start is a federal grant program that promotes school readiness for children from low-income families, between three to five years old. The program offers educational, nutritional, health, social and other services. The county has administered this program for 46 years – in federal parlance, the county is the “grantee” for the program in Washtenaw County. There are several sites throughout the county. The largest is in Ypsilanti, serving 262 children and their families. Another 299 children are served at sites in Ann Arbor, Whitmore Lake and Willow Run.

The program employs 34.8 full-time employees – of those, 25.5 are teachers, and 6 positions are in administration, including one that’s currently vacant. Most of the workers – 27.3 of the 34.8 FTEs – are represented by unions. [A report distributed later in the meeting by Washtenaw Head Start director Pat Horne McGee states that the program employs nearly 100 workers countywide, both full-time and part-time.]

Head Start’s budget for 2011-12 is $4,854,094 – the bulk of that ($3,675,966) comes from federal funding. Another $528,048 comes from the county’s general fund, and the program also plans to use $129,838 from the Head Start fund balance during the fiscal year. Remaining funds come from in-kind contributions and a U.S. Dept. of Agriculture reimbursement.

To retain federal funding for Head Start, the county (as grantee) must fund at least 20% of the total budget – or about $918,000 in FY2011-12. That comes from the combination of general fund dollars and in-kind support, Belknap said. In addition, the county subsidizes part of Head Start’s cost allocation plan (CAP) – an amount charged to each county department for things like the county attorney and administration. Head Start’s CAP was assessed at $435,000 in FY2010-11, Belknap said, but the program was only charged $167,974. Over the years, she said, the county has typically exceeded the 20% requirement.

Including the CAP and general fund support, Belknap told commissioners that Head Start had received $5.976 million in subsidies from the county since FY2005-06.

The question that the administration is now asking, she said, is whether Head Start is part of the county’s core mission. While it’s a solid program, perhaps there are partners in the community that are better-suited to operating it. The program is discretionary – it’s not a service that’s mandated by the state. What’s more, educational programs aren’t part of the county’s core function, she said – even though the county is proud of Head Start. On the financial side, personnel costs continue to rise but federal funding will likely remain flat, at best, she said.

The program could continue under a different grantee, Belknap said. The process would work like this:

  1. The county would notify the regional Head Start office that the county intended to relinquish its status as grantee.
  2. A date would be set to end the county’s participation in the program.
  3. The national Head Start office would issue a request for proposals (RFP) and select a new grantee. Entities that could qualify as a grantee include: (1) a public entity – like a school district, university, municipality or a new consortium; (2) a nonprofit or for-profit organization; or (3) a regional Head Start office.
  4. If no new grantee is selected by the county’s end date, the national Head Start office would appoint the Community Development Institute (CDI) as the program’s interim manager. CDI is a federally funded entity specifically charged with providing this kind of interim service for Head Start programs. Current Head Start staff in Washtenaw County would have to re-apply for their positions, Belknap said.

Another factor to consider is the $3 million Head Start building that the board of commissioners voted to build in 2002, Belknap said. The county owes $2.68 million on bond payments through 2022.

Chart showing bond payments for Washtenaw Head Start building

Chart showing the bond payment schedule for the Washtenaw Head Start building in Ypsilanti. (Links to larger image)

It’s likely that the building will factor in to any agreement made with the next grantee, Belknap said. She noted that all of the “rent” paid by Head Start goes directly to the bond payments. In addition, Head Start will make payments to the county through FY2052-53 to repay the county for the full amount of the bond. The county will also need to determine what obligations it has for more than $748,000 it received in federal funds for the building, she said.

Belknap concluded by laying out the proposed next steps. The board would make a decision about Head Start as part of the 2012-13 budget it approves in November. In December, the county would notify the regional Head Start office of its intent to relinquish its responsibility for the program, and set an end date of August 2012 to end participation.

Washtenaw Head Start: Commissioner Discussion

Yousef Rabhi, who chairs the working sessions, began by framing the discussion with a question: Is Head Start a service that the county government should be providing?

Ronnie Peterson was the first to respond – and he responded at length. ”There’s a lot of stuff we shouldn’t be in the business of, but we’re in it,” he began. He wondered who had scheduled this topic – it was the first he’d heard that the county was considering letting go of Head Start.

He hoped the county would always be in the business of securing the healthy future of its children. The county is often the place of last resort, Peterson said, but the county government’s safety net already has a lot of holes. The county has cut back on programs even during good times, he said. Whenever that happens, it’s important to understand the impact these decisions have on the people that are served. The presentation on Head Start didn’t include that kind of information, he said.

Peterson pointed to recent changes at the juvenile court as a similar situation. The old facility on Platt Road was dilapidated and that was the reason cited for moving the juvenile court to the downtown Ann Arbor courthouse – yet the reason the original facility was dilapidated was because the county didn’t invest in it, he contended. That was a choice that was made. In the past, county commissioners have made verbal commitments to services for children, but they haven’t followed through with funding, Peterson said. And now the board is talking about leaving Head Start, which has won national awards, he noted.

Peterson said he couldn’t believe no one had brought up this transition at earlier meetings. The county had built a new $3 million facility for Head Start just a few years ago. If Head Start was on the table, why didn’t county officials bring in experts to talk about what the options are? he wondered. The county spends more money on vehicles in a year than it does on Head Start in 2-3 years, he said.

Peterson wanted the county administration to put the Head Start discussion in the context of other non-mandated programs that receive general fund support. What other programs should be part of the budget discussion? The county funds the Humane Society of Huron Valley, for example, he noted. [The county pays $500,000 annually to the HSHV to provide animal shelter services mandated by the state.] Peterson said he loves his pets, but at the end of the day, Head Start is more important.

He noted that school districts are facing budget deficits too – how will those districts be better equipped than the county to handle Head Start?

The board needs to form a budget & finance committee to work more closely on these issues, Peterson said, so the board can get more control over the county’s finances. It’s been embarrassing for several years, he said.

When Peterson finished his turn, Rabhi reviewed for commissioners the budget process that they agreed to earlier this year, which included priority-setting retreats. More recently, commissioners had voted to add five working sessions devoted exclusively to budget issues, Rabhi noted – the topics for those working sessions had been discussed at previous meetings, he said, “and this is one of them.”

From Chronicle coverage of the first budget working session, on June 16:

Finally, [county administrator Verna] McDaniel provided a list of topics for budget-related working sessions in the coming months:

  • July 7: Updates on the WCHO split from the county, the Western Washtenaw Recycling Authority, and the Ann Arbor Skatepark
  • July 21: Head Start
  • Aug. 4: Retirement funding, unfunded accrued liabilities, debt, and time owed to employees
  • Aug. 18: County building/space plan, county/city of Ann Arbor dispatch consolidation
  • Sept. 9: Health care reform, tax increment financing (TIF)

The remainder of scheduled working sessions for September, October and November will be budget-related, but specific topics have not been identified at this point.

McDaniel repeated Rabhi’s comments, stressing that the topics of the budget working sessions had been discussed at their June 16 meeting. She noted that the first major reorganization had been to consolidate three departments – the office of community development, the economic development & energy department, and the employment training and community services (ETCS) department. Staff had briefed the board on that consolidation at several points, she said, including a May 5, 2011 working session. [The board gave initial approval to the consolidation at its July 6 meeting, and are expected to take a final vote on Aug. 3.]

These working sessions are a forum for the administration to bring forward proposals and seek board input, McDaniel said. She noted that the board had set priorities and instructed her to closely review all the county programs and services to determine whether the county should continue to offer them. “At the risk of maybe making some of you uncomfortable, I’m doing just that,” she said. The discussion about Head Start is in this context.

McDaniel emphasized that she is not proposing to eliminate the Head Start program. The question is whether the county government is the best grantee for it. The presentation was not intended to impugn Head Start in any way, McDaniel said.

In response to a query from Peterson, McDaniel said that in addition to the three-department consolidation and possible Head Start changes, other possible reorganization includes the county/city of Ann Arbor dispatch consolidation and possibly increasing the county’s IT partnership with Ann Arbor. [For background on the dispatch consolidation, see Chronicle coverage: "Ann Arbor, Washtenaw: Joint 911 Dispatch?"]

Wes Prater said he understood that Head Start is a discretionary program, but it has enjoyed strong board support. He believed the county should consider finding a different grantee, but he’s concerned about what would happen to the children and families if the transition is unsuccessful. He asked for additional information in writing – including background about how school districts are currently involved – and said this won’t be the only board discussion on the issue. But if there’s another grantee out there that could take over responsibility for Head Start, the county should consider it, he said.

Dan Smith clarified the funding that the county currently provides to Head Start: (1) $528,000 annually from the general fund; (2) $267,000 in a subsidy for Head Start’s portion of the county cost allocation plan (CAP) – an amount charged to each department for things like the county attorney and administration; and (3) a portion of the bond payment for the Head Start facility.

Kelly Belknap, interim deputy administrator, said that when she referred to the county supporting Head Start with $5.9 million over a seven-year period, she was not including the bond payments. That’s because the Head Start program has made a commitment to pay off the county’s portion of those bond payments eventually – through fiscal 2052-2053.

D. Smith confirmed that in total, the county paid about $900,000 annually to support Head Start. He also drew out the fact that Head Start’s fund balance was low – there isn’t much more available in the fund balance beyond the $130,000 that Head Start plans to use from it for the FY2011-12 budget, Belknap said. She added that if union concessions are secured for the coming year, Head Start would need to use less of its fund balance.

Alicia Ping said if the county could find another qualified grantee, that would be great – especially if it’s an educational entity. But she also agreed with Peterson’s desire to see the whole picture, not just to be presented with isolated options on ways to cut expenses.

Leah Gunn weighed in to defend some of the board’s past actions. Her first year on the board, in 1997, she joined the Head Start policy council. At that time, Head Start officials at the federal level had told the county that its Head Start program was failing, she recalled. The county eventually hired Horne McGee, she said, who built it into a program with a reputation for excellence.

Gunn said it breaks her heart to look at these numbers, but it takes almost $1 million to run the program, offering services that school districts like Ypsilanti and Willow Run can’t provide. But given the county’s other obligations, she added, she couldn’t see how the county could continue to run it.

The county hadn’t cut children’s services, Gunn continued. In 1998, the board instituted the children’s well-being program and has allocated roughly $1 million each year to nonprofits that provide children’s services, she said.

Turning to the topic of the juvenile court, Gunn said the reason that the county built a new juvenile detention center was that the Platt Road facility had been uninhabitable. She’s proud of the new facility and the programs run out of it. The same is true for the juvenile court – county staff determined that the Platt Road location wasn’t worth renovating, so the court was moved downtown. She disputed Peterson’s contention that kids are forced to mingle with adult offenders.

Gunn pointed out that the other major non-mandated service that the county provides is police services. She noted that the board had been through that discussion, and the majority of commissioners determined that police services were a priority. So the county is spending millions of dollars to subsidize the cost of sheriff deputy patrols for municipalities that contract for those services, as well as supporting general fund deputies, she said.

The board knows her feelings about this, Gunn said, but she voted yes because she didn’t have the votes on her side and she didn’t want to waste everyone’s time debating it. [Gunn, one of four commissioners who represent Ann Arbor, has previously voiced dissent over the amount of money that the county spends to offset the cost of sherif deputy patrols throughout the county. For additional background on the issue, see Chronicle coverage: "The Price of Washtenaw Police Services"]

While she is sad to lose the program, it doesn’t mean that Head Start will be eliminated, Gunn said. The county will find another grantee. She recalled a similar situation when the county decided that it could no longer support the Library for the Blind and Physically Disabled. Now that service is provided by the Ann Arbor District Library, she noted. These are hard decisions, but the board must determine whether Head Start is a core service or not. ”In the end, it probable is not,” she said.

Rob Turner, a former Chelsea school board member, told commissioners he’s dealt with Head Start from the school’s perspective – it’s been successful in some districts, less so in others, he said. Turner agreed with some of Peterson’s comments, and suggested that county officials talk to leaders of the Washtenaw Intermediate School District (WISD) to see if they’re interested in taking on the program. The WISD, as a countywide educational entity, would be in the best position to coordinate it, he said, and make it even stronger and more effective.

Turner said the county is the wrong entity to handle Head Start, but he’d hate to see the program turned over to the feds – there would be a disconnect with the community, he said. The county needs to work to find another agency to take on the program, so that the baton can be passed without disrupting services to children and their families.

Gunn pointed out that Head Start is actually a federal program now – it’s monitored by federal officials, receives the bulk of its funding from the federal government, and must meet federal standards. If the county wants to end its participation, there’s a process that must be followed – and the county can’t select the entity that would take over the program. ”I’m sorry to say that’s the truth, but when you take federal money, you have to follow federal rules,” she said. “That’s the way it is.”

Peterson replied, “It may be federal dollars, but these are Washtenaw County babies.” He again described his concerns about the impact on the children and families, and said he hoped that the board’s next meeting would be filled with parents and children who would show commissioners how much the families need Head Start. His district wasn’t the most challenged – Rolland Sizemore Jr.’s district held that distinction, he said. [Sizemore represents District 5, covering parts of Ypsilanti Township and Superior Township.]

But Peterson added that he also had a lot of disadvantaged people in his district [District 6, covering Ypsilanti and part of Ypsilanti Township] and called himself an advocate and a voice for the disadvantaged and poor. He warned his fellow commissioners not to expect his support for their issues, if they didn’t support resources for children.

The county pays for other mandated services – like the sheriff’s road patrols, the energy department and participation in the Urban County, Peterson noted. He supported those programs, but is troubled that others aren’t supporting attempts to lift children out of poverty.

Gunn responded by saying she grew impatient with Peterson for claiming he’s the only one who has poor people in his district, or who cares about children. Every commissioner does, she said, and she especially resents it given her long-time work with Head Start and funding for children’s services. And as for the Urban County, it’s also a federal program, she noted – it receives money from the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) specifically for projects in low-income neighborhoods and for low-income residents.

Turner thanked Gunn for pointing out that the transition for Head Start wasn’t something that the county could decide itself. However, he said, it’s been his experience that state and federal officials are receptive to recommendations. If the county suggests an entity to take over, he believed the federal agency would entertain that suggestion to make the transition smoother.

At the end of the discussion, Rabhi wrapped up by thanking commissioners for their input on what was a hard topic to discuss. The theme he’d heard was that the most important thing is what’s best for the children. Rabhi said that will weigh heavily on his mind as commissioners continue exploring options for Head Start.

Wasthenaw Head Start: Public Commentary

About a dozen Head Start staff and supporters attended the July 21 session, but only two people spoke during public commentary at the end of the meeting.

Shirley Beckley said she’s lived in Ann Arbor her whole life and is a product of the school system. Her grandson goes to Head Start and has benefited from it, and she’s disappointed that commissioners are talking about shifting the program out of the county’s control. She hoped the board would reconsider. She’s worried that shifting it to another entity would be disruptive, and the children and families don’t need another disruption in their lives. Beckley said she’s also had reason to interact with the county’s juvenile court system, unfortunately, with some of her children and grandchildren. She was disappointed that the facility had been moved to the downtown courthouse – she’d come to one of the board’s previous meetings to speak against that move, but said the public didn’t really have any say-so in the matter.

Beckley hoped the county would take care of Head Start the same way they’ve taken care of the juvenile court. Commissioners say they’re not in the business of educating children, ”but you’re in the business of locking them up!” she said. Head Start is one way to take care of children so that it doesn’t reach that point. The Head Start program has a director who cares about the children and who has a national reputation, Beckley said. She’d hate to see things get lost in the shuffle of moving to another entity, and to see the children suffer. She again stated that she hoped they’d reconsider.

Pat Horne McGee, director of Washtenaw Head Start, also addressed commissioners during public commentary – she had not been part of the formal presentation. She’s been director for the past 12 years, she said, and wanted to clarify some things. Head Start isn’t primarily an education program, she said – it’s a comprehensive development program, addressing a child’s emotional, social, and health needs. If children are not healthy, they can’t learn, she said. Before coming to Washtenaw, Horne McGee said she’d been director of Head Start in Wayne County, which was also an award-winning program. The Wayne County grantee, an intermediate school district, ended the program because it wanted to focus on K-12 education. But preschool is vital to K-12 success, she said.

Horne McGee passed out copies of letters of support for the county to keep Head Start. Among them was a letter from former Ann Arbor city councilmember Leigh Greden, who’s now executive director of government and community relations for Eastern Michigan University. He wrote about the partnership between Washtenaw Head Start and EMU, which brings children and their parents to EMU’s campus in the fall.

She also distributed a briefing paper that described the local Head Start’s impact on the community and economic development. Among other things, the document (1) outlined ways that the program has made cuts over the years to address the worsening financial situation, and (2) proposed several alternatives that could lower the county’s general fund contribution to Head Start – options such as requesting additional in-kind contributions from local partners, and tying staff raises to increases in federal grant support.

Horne McGee concluded by thanking the Head Start staff and parents – and former parents, she said, pointing to county treasurer Catherine McClary – who had attended the meeting that night.

Washtenaw Head Start: Public Commentary – Commissioner Response

Leah Gunn noted that she served on the Head Start policy council when the county hired Horne McGee, and said Horne McGee has been a fantastic director. ”All we need is money to make this work, my friends,” Gunn said. The program aims to break the cycle of poverty, Gunn added, and if the county could keep the program, it would. But she didn’t see how the county could find the money to do that.

Ronnie Peterson expressed displeasure that Horne McGee hadn’t been part of the formal presentation. He indicated that it’s appropriate for any program director to participate in that way, when their work is being discussed. Rob Turner echoed that sentiment, noting that all three department directors had participated when the reorganization of their areas had been discussed before the board. He highlighted Horne McGee’s comment about the importance of preschool preparation for K-12 success, and said that’s why it would be good to have the WISD or a school district take over the program.

Yousef Rabhi said he thought there had been an invitation extended to Horne McGee to participate in the presentation, but that for some reason that didn’t work out. It’s not his intention to shut people out, he said. [Horne McGee told The Chronicle after the meeting that she'd been told to attend, but not invited to make a presentation.]

Wes Prater reminded his colleagues that they have a county administrator, Verna McDaniel, who is under contract to present a budget to the board – that’s her job. When the board gets the budget, commissioners can slice and dice it anyway they want. But first, he said, ”I think we need to allow her to do her job, then we’ll do ours.”

Peterson replied that it seemed to him there are meetings taking place in advance of the public meetings – some strategy had already been laid. If that’s the way the game is played, he said, then that’s all the more reason to have a budget & finance committee of the board. Commissioners hire, fire, restructure and adopt the budget, he said. Their working sessions are meant to discuss these issues. ”Tonight was a one-sided presentation,” he said. “Let’s not make it that way again.”

Prater responded to Peterson by saying he wasn’t talking about the presentation – he was talking about the overall process. The board doesn’t have the authority to tell the county administrator what to put in the budget. It’s in her contract as her responsibility, Prater said.

Present: Leah Gunn, Ronnie Peterson, Alicia Ping, Wes Prater, Yousef Rabhi, Rob Turner, and Dan Smith.

Absent: Barbara Levin Bergman, Kristin Judge, Rolland Sizemore Jr., Conan Smith

Next regular board meeting: Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2011 at 6:30 p.m. at the county administration building, 220 N. Main St. The Ways & Means Committee meets first, followed immediately by the regular board meeting. [confirm date] (Though the agenda states that the regular board meeting begins at 6:45 p.m., it usually starts much later – times vary depending on what’s on the agenda.) Public comment sessions are held at the beginning and end of each meeting.

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  1. July 28, 2011 at 12:00 pm | permalink

    Was there any discussion at the meeting about the effectiveness of Head Start, since a report was recently released by the Federal Govenment questioning the impace of Head Start? Quote from report

    In sum, this report finds that providing access to Head Start has benefits for both 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds in the cognitive, health, and parenting domains, and for 3-year-olds in the social-emotional domain. However, the benefits of access to Head Start at age four are largely absent by 1st grade for the program population as a whole. For 3-year-olds, there are few sustained benefits, although access to the program may lead to improved parent-child relationships through 1st grade…

    The report is available here: [link]

  2. By Mary Morgan
    July 28, 2011 at 12:27 pm | permalink

    Re. “Was there any discussion at the meeting about the effectiveness of Head Start…”

    There was no substantive discussion about the general effectiveness of Head Start, though several commissioners mentioned national recognition that the local program has received. A report distributed to commissioners by Washtenaw Head Start director Pat Horne McGee listed awards that the local program has received, including its designation as a National Head Start Association Program of Excellence. That award is internal to the federal Head Start program.

    Commissioners generally expressed support for the program, but its effectiveness – at either the national or local level – was not the focus of this working session.

  3. By Alan Goldsmith
    July 28, 2011 at 1:41 pm | permalink

    “The Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services contracted with Westat to conduct the Head Start Impact Study. The views expressed in this report are those of the authors and they do not necessarily represent the opinions and positions of the Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families or the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.”

    From the cited report.

  4. July 28, 2011 at 2:07 pm | permalink

    I support Head Start as important to our nation and to early childhood development. I wonder what metrics that study employed to conclude that there are few “sustained benefits”? Yet I accept as a matter of faith that this program especially benefits individuals who are from families that cannot provide the type of enriched experience middle-class children receive.

    That said, I opposed building the Head Start school discussed here. I’m pretty sure I voted for it in the end (pressure was immense and who can vote against little children?). Before that I did my usual irritating bit of raising all kinds of questions, including about the financing. We were assured unequivocally that Head Start would bear all the cost (through rents) and that it would not be a county expense at all. This proved not to be the case almost immediately.

    Part of my unhappiness with the project was that its justification was that the Ypsilanti School System refused to continue providing space for it. Although I don’t recall the exact details, Head Start programs throughout the county are carried by the relevant school systems. Only in the Ypsilanti and Willow Run system was the responsibility thrust back into the county’s hands. It seemed unreasonable to me that the schools in those communities could not at least house the program.

  5. By Leah Gunn
    July 28, 2011 at 2:29 pm | permalink

    Actually, Willow Run does house its own Head Start Program, and pays the matching money by allowing Head Start to use its building. It is Lincoln and Ypsilanti which do not, and their pupils come to the county building at LeForge and Clark. The county is the federal “grantee” and the other school systems, which include Willow Run, Ann Arbor, Whitmore Lake, Time for Tots (serving homeless children through SOS Community Services) and Manchester all are called “delegates”. They receive their federal money through Washtenaw County, which is the federal fiduciary “grantee”. It also seems unreasonable to me that these other school districts could not at least house the program, particularly considering that the concept for Head Start was originated by the “Perry School Study”, upon which the legislation, passed in 1964, was based. Perry School is in Ypsilanti. But, it is what it is.

    It’s complicated, and took me a long time to catch on as well.

  6. By Scratchingmyhead
    July 28, 2011 at 2:31 pm | permalink

    I would like to thank Mary Morgan for providing such an in-depth summary of the discussion regarding the Headstart program. I know that it is a highly emotional issue for many but I think its a discussion that must take place. Throughout this whole discussion, there was little mentioned about the impact of the Headstart program on the educational outcomes of low income children, and I doubt that other than anecedotal comments, there’s probably not much evidence the program actually works. If the program was as effective as everyone claim, then why is it these children fall behind once they enter regular school? It easy for a federal program to receive national recognition as long at it does not have any major compliance issues. The commissioners should demand some accountability from the program other than play to the emotional heartstrings of folk.

  7. July 28, 2011 at 2:49 pm | permalink

    Thanks for the clarification, Leah, and to the Chronicle for its excellent coverage of county issues.

  8. July 28, 2011 at 11:13 pm | permalink

    In answer to Scratching My Head:
    I don’t have an absolute answer to your question of “If the program was as effective as everyone claim, then why is it these children fall behind once they enter regular school?,” but based on lots of other reading that I’ve done, I would suspect that the reason is that middle and upper class kids continue to get ongoing enrichment that poor kids don’t get. So Head Start works to close some of the gap, but when it ends other things don’t take its place. My own (middle class) kids get and got music lessons, swim lessons, enrollment in sports teams, vacations outside of southeastern Michigan, tons of books and music at home… Over time, this leads to a wide and widening gap and is one of the reasons that there’s lots of evidence that testing in schools just highlights the economic background of the schools’ families.

  9. By StillScratchingmyhead
    July 29, 2011 at 9:51 am | permalink

    Schoolsmuse: I think you have a rational explanation as to why some of these gains are not sustained once the child leaves Head Start. I’ve often wondered why our educators, professional administrators and politicians are not more adamant about structuring a system that will support these children once they leave the nurturing environment of Head Start. Instead, we allow these issues to fester until they become emotional and political and then it becomes almost impossible to find effective solutions because the problem is intertwinded with people political agenda. I personally don’t think that programs such as Head Start should be administered by any governmental unit because of the political nature of government. I would hope the commissioners, whatever their final decision demand there be greater accountability from those who run the program not just anecdotal “feel good” reports or that the program has been nationally recognized. We, the taxpayers should at least be properly informed as to whether these programs are having any impact on improving the lives of those they are intended to help.

  10. By Scratchingmyhead
    July 29, 2011 at 1:53 pm | permalink

    To Chris Blackstone. Thanks for providing the link to the Department of Health and Human Services study. That was a very good resource. As most of you reading this blog now recognize, this subject is very important to me. As I read the study, I’m left sort of in “no man’s land” because from what I’ve read, the study, concludes various things. I know that Head Start provides key services such as health screening, nutrition, socialization and parent involvement but at the end of the day, I want to know if the youth and parents who attend the program are ready for the academic challenges of school. Leah Gunn, you’re right. The original study that gave rise to Head Start, grew out of the Perry Project and was based on the assumption that low income kids need this service in order to be ready for the regular educational environment. However, this does not seem to be the case especially as we look at the long standing achievement gap throughout the various districts in the County. I need more than the “feel good” explanation for this program or the fact that it has received national recognition. What does this mean? It’s time that our politicians stop tugging on our emotional heart string and demand these programs show concrete results. I’m sincerely hoping as this issue is debated and to where to locate this program, we also look at issues of results and accountability. Nothing less is acceptable.

  11. By Leah Gunn
    July 29, 2011 at 5:46 pm | permalink

    Scratching My Head – contact Pat Horne McGee (go to the county web site for contact information – [link]) and she can show you all the charts that Head Start keeps to track the children. The amount of information is quite amazing, as are the requirements of the fedeal government. The program is accountable.

    I agree with you that once kids leave Head Start they tend to do less well, BUT they do better than their socio-economic cohort who did not have the advantage of Head Start. Why they do not do as well as other children says something about our public school system. Ann Arbor schools have been trying to address the achievemnt gap for thirty years with little success. I wish I knew the answers.

  12. By Leah Gunn
    July 29, 2011 at 5:47 pm | permalink

    That would be “achievement” – sorry!

  13. July 29, 2011 at 10:18 pm | permalink

    I skimmed the executive summary of the study. It appears to be well-done and official. But as I guessed, it was begun during the George W. Bush term. Mr. Bush valued literacy (reading) above many other factors, and the measures tested are strongly weighted to reading ability and literacy. Yet Head Start is not primarily about reading skills, but a number of social/family/development issues. Further, the benefits do persist through the first year of grade school.

    One of the factors measured is how often they are read to by their parents. This is acknowledged as an important factor in literacy. But the study indicates that this falls off after a year.

    Perhaps the answer is that we need additional programs to support parents of children who are socioeconomically disadvantaged, so that they continue to interact with and enrich their children. School systems can’t be expected to do this family support unless it is part of their mission.

  14. By Leah Gunn
    July 30, 2011 at 7:17 am | permalink

    So what did the state legislature just do? Instead of acknowledging that “we need additional programs to support parents of children who are socioeconomically disadvantaged”, they passed legislation to remove families from Temporary Assistance to Needy Familes if they have been on it for more than four years. This means that a mother with three kids ages 5 down to 1 will lose her cash benefits, and will have only Medicaid and food stamps. How can the rent be paid? They also removed a small benefit which allows these families a lousy $79 per year to buy coats and boots for their kids. This will affect about 900 people in Washtenaw County and it will continue on the first of each month as more are dropped from TANF. The burden of care will fall on local governments and non-profits.

    As to literacy, the Family Book Club and Imagination Library provide books to Head Start children and their parents, and they are encouraged to read to them. However, some of the parents themselvs struggle with literacy, and the Literacy Coalition of Washtenaw County was formed to try to address this problem.

    With what is happening in Washington right now, things are not looking great for anyone except the billionaire hedge fund managers who pay a 15% tax rate on their income instead of the regular rates.

  15. By StillScratchingmyHead
    July 30, 2011 at 10:13 am | permalink

    Leah> I appreciate your sensitivity to the issue and commitment to doing what you can to address it. However, my concern is that you have been a commissioner for unpteen years and should know that the war on poverty is not going to addressed at the federal level because every administration have their on agenda which may or may not be effective in addressing poverty. If we are going to have any type of sustained strategy in addressing this issue, it has to start at the local level and it clearly begins with education and a desire on behalf of the community to look after its own. Cutesey programs and nice sounding initiatives will not do it.

  16. July 30, 2011 at 11:45 am | permalink

    Scratching, what do you want to see happen? You sound sincere and well-informed, but you seem mostly to be advocating cessation of the program.

    What metrics would you demand to make the program accountable? Test scores? I personally believe that the current emphasis on test scores alone is leading to a lot of bad practices and policy choices. Bright lines are hard to find in human development and achievement.

    I doubt this study can or will be done, but I’d like to know what happens to these kids over their entire childhood development. The study seemed to say that it helped in socialization. Do they become more successful adults? Of course, the rest of their life and school experience will have a strong influence on that result.

  17. By Leah Gunn
    July 30, 2011 at 12:16 pm | permalink

    There is nothing cutesy about either Head Start or the Literacy Coalition. If you think that it is the job of local government to take care of people, are you willing to vote in favor of a human services millage to do it? Both the City of Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County allocate about $1 million annually from our General Funds for Human Services – to HELP people. These monies go to services such as Food Gatherers, the shelters, health agencies, and so forth. For you to say that I should not expect the federal government to pay for such programs – well, who do you think pays for Head Start? Medicaid? Medicare? TANF? Housing? What we can do on the local level is simply not enough – we don’t have the resources and they are dwindling as we speak.

    I am a long time public servant struggling to make sense out of these needs and the resources to fulfill them. The agencies that we give money to are accountable and have produced measurable results in our community. This year, for the first time, the local governments partnered with the Urban County (federal, yes federal, CDBG funding), the United Way and the Ann Arbor Area Commuity Foundation to create a Coordinated Funding Plan to fund these needs. The critria for erceiving funding are very comprehensive and demand mesaurable results. The plan saves money on administration thus having more for direct services.

    As to longitudinal studies of children who have been through Head Start, when compared to their socioeconomic cohort they are more likely to go to college and less likely end up in jail or prison. Look up the High Scope Foundation for more information – it is right here in Ypsialanti, and did the original study back in the 60′s.

  18. July 30, 2011 at 12:18 pm | permalink

    By the way, a design flaw in the study cited was that the control group included children who attended other preschools.

    “a control group that did not have access to Head Start, but could enroll in other early childhood programs or non-Head Start services selected by their parents.”

    This dilutes the results quite a bit, I think.

  19. By Leah Gunn
    July 30, 2011 at 1:35 pm | permalink

    I disagree, but I think that is academic. The conversation has turned to the delivery of human services in our community, and my point is that we, locally, do not fund the majority of these programs. We work in partnership with the state and federal governments.

  20. July 30, 2011 at 2:08 pm | permalink

    Re #19, not sure what you (Leah) are referring to, but maybe sequence of comment posting has confused the longitudinal Perry study and the study cited in the first comment post of this series. My comment referred to the study cited in the first comment of the series, that was being used to indicate that Head Start has no lasting value. The more recent study had a design flaw in that Head Start participants were found to have little benefit beyond the first grade compared to a “control” group who had unknown and varied types of enrichment programs, including different preschool experiences. It was not a valid comparison to draw the conclusions that it did.

  21. By ScratchingmyHead
    July 31, 2011 at 1:08 pm | permalink

    Leah?Vivienne: Show me one shred of evidence locally that the programs you mentioned have made a significant difference in the population you are referencing. I studied the Perry Project which laid the foundation for the current Head Start program and it was right on target regarding its original intent. I read extensively other research on Head Start and I’m not convinced the program as it is currently configurated or any other social programs funded or administered by the county is effective. While I can appreciate your “feeling good” about the programs you have supported, I look at the state of affairs as they currently exist and I see children who are not doing well in school, who are ending up in the juvenile and criminal justice system by the boatload, who cannot get jobs or become gainfully employed because of criminal records and who once released from the criminal justice system, are apt to return within one year of their release. The only ones I see who are benefiting from the current setup are the ones administering these programs. Show me some concrete results and we can them begin to talk about what needs to take place.

  22. July 31, 2011 at 4:23 pm | permalink

    I’ve always thought it tragic that Head Start was not fully funded and available to all children who needed it.

    Again, ScratchingMyHead, you seem principally interested in ending the program. I wonder what motivates you to take this position and what else you want to see happen? Is it the county budget? Specific individuals within the program? Competing programs which you think should be better supported? There is a lot of passion and also cogency in your statements but little policy direction other than cessation of the program.

    Education is not really my “portfolio”. I wish others who know more about all this would respond.

  23. By StillScratchingmyHead
    July 31, 2011 at 5:10 pm | permalink

    Vivienne: Just because I raise concerns about the program doesn’t mean that I am at all interested in ending it, quiet the contrary. I do have concerns however. For example; both you and Leah make the point the Head start program which grew of the Perry Project is a deterrant to incarceration and other variables leading to poverty. I would prevail upon you or anyone else to visit the county jail on any given day and talk with some of the incarcerated and document how many of them attended Head Start, how many times they have been in contact with the juvenile or criminal justice system, their current level of educational attainment, etc. The point I’m trying to make if that after 46 years of sponsoring this program, it is time to re-examine it to see if there is an entity better suited to run it. It is also time to examine the “metrics” you refer to. Is the program really making a difference in the lives of the people it is design to serve. I’m sure that you will find users of the services and administrators who benefit financially who can make a case for it. If that’s the case, why do we continue to have throughout Washtenaw County an “achievement gap” issue? It’s time to stop the “feel good” liberal language and deal with some concrete realities.

  24. By Peter
    August 8, 2011 at 1:59 pm | permalink

    “As to literacy, the Family Book Club and Imagination Library provide books to Head Start children and their parents, and they are encouraged to read to them.” This is not for the Head Start children only. This is for the children o-5 years and should be living in 48197 + 48198 area code.

    Also, county had prepared itself in well advanced bu building new jail and courts in the county because by not spending $1 for the Head Start program, you are tend to spend $10 in the long run for the courts and jails…

    Another solution is since County Administrator and All County Commissioners love the Nationally Recognized Head Start program. But liking or loving the program does not do anything….If they can sacrifice their 30% paycheck then it is very easy to save the Nationally recognized program. Also, by sacrificing 30% pay cut by administrator and commissioner won’t make their children starving but not supporting Head Start program may make some of the Washtenaw County children starv.