County OKs Interim Head Start Changes

Following up on previous discussions about the future of Washtenaw Head Start, the county board of commissioners approved changes to the program from Aug. 1, 2012 through July 31, 2013 – an interim period during which the county will continue to manage Head Start before handing it over to another administrative entity. The action was taken at the board’s July 11, 2012 meeting, as part of authorizing a federal grant application for the program. Ronnie Peterson cast the sole vote against the changes, and objected strenuously to any program cuts.

Separately, the board unanimously passed a resolution supporting the selection of the Washtenaw Intermediate School District as the next local Head Start administrator. The selection will be made by federal Head Start officials.

The local Head Start program provides pre-school services to 561 children, ages 3-5, and their families – both directly, and through delegating to other providers, including local school systems. The majority of the program is funded with a $4.028 million federal grant. The interim plan calls for eliminating 7.8 full-time jobs, and leaving another three jobs vacant. Because of vacancies and retirements, only three employees will be affected, according to a staff memo. The changes will result in one teacher and one teaching assistant per room – previously, there were two teaching assistants and one teacher per room.

These changes had been forecast at the board’s May 2, 2012 meeting. County administrator Verna McDaniel had told commissioners that the county had agreed to a one-year extension to continue administering the program, through July 31, 2013. As part of the budget process last year, the county board had voted to relinquish its 46-year administration of the program on July 31, 2012. But the process to find another entity to administer Head Start has taken longer than expected, so the county reached an agreement with federal officials to operate the program another year.

In May, McDaniel reported that the agreement waives a 20% local match of about $750,000 that the county had previously been required to provide. She had noted that there would be staff changes proposed as a result of the new interim agreement. At the time, several commissioners praised the decision for easing the eventual transition to a new Head Start administrator, but Ronnie Peterson had expressed concern that the program’s high standards would be compromised.

At the July 11 meeting, Peterson again voiced his concerns at length, and asked – as he has in the past – that independent experts be brought in to discuss how the changes will impact the children. He also vowed to try to keep Head Start under the county’s administration, rather than relinquishing control. The issue will be addressed at an Aug. 2 working session.

This brief was filed from the boardroom of the county administration building at 220 N. Main in Ann Arbor. A more detailed report will follow: [link]