Stories indexed with the term ‘Head Start’

County Board Debates Infrastructure Issues

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (Sept. 4, 2013): A five-hour meeting was dominated by two debates: funding for a new software system for the Washtenaw County trial court, and the future of county-owned property on Platt Road.

Charles Beatty Jr., Washtenaw Head Start, Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Charles Beatty Jr. attended the Sept. 4 Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting to accept a resolution in honor of his father, Charles Beatty Sr. The board supports naming the Head Start building at 1661 LeForge in Ypsilanti – owned by the county – in honor of the late Charles Beatty Sr., who was influential in early childhood education. (Photos by the writer.)

For the site at 2260 and 2270 Platt Road – the former juvenile center – staff have proposed a process that focuses on possibly using the site for affordable housing. A $100,000 planning grant is available to explore that option. However, several commissioners – while expressing support for affordable housing in general – wanted to look at a broader range of alternatives, including the possibility of selling the site, which some believe could be worth $2 million. After more than an hour of debate, the board voted to postpone action until its Sept. 18 meeting, directing staff to prepare an alternative resolution to consider.

Another lengthy debate focused on the funding mechanism for new trial court software, estimated to cost $2.3 million. The vendor of the current system went out of business several years ago, and replacement is critical. Donald Shelton, chief judge of the trial court, told commissioners: “If this [software] system goes down, our judicial system in the county simply stops operating.”

Some commissioners wanted a more formal mechanism to repay the county’s investment in the system, which includes nearly $1.3 million from capital reserves. The board eventually passed a resolution stating that revenues from the court’s electronic filing fees will be used to reimburse the capital reserves. E-filing fees – likely to be $6 per filing – are expected initially to generate only about $45,000 in revenues. The e-filing will start with civil cases, with phased roll-out to other cases, including criminal and probate. At some point, e-filing might become mandatory.

A range of other significant action items yielded far less discussion. The board gave initial approval to a new micro loan program for small businesses, to be managed by the Center for Empowerment and Economic Development. Also getting initial approval was a range of grants administered by the county’s office of community & economic development, as well as a resolution that would give blanket approval in the future to nearly 30 annual entitlement grants received by the county totaling an estimated $8.8 million, beginning in 2014. Currently, each of those grants requires separate annual approval by the board.

Commissioners also gave initial approval to strengthen the county’s affirmative action plan, as well as other nondiscrimination in employment-related policies. The primary change adds a prohibition of discrimination on the basis of gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation. Community activist Jim Toy and Jason Morgan, who serves on the board of the Jim Toy Community Center, spoke during public commentary to support the changes.

Other items receiving an initial vote from the board include: (1) adding three new full-time jobs for stewardship of the county nature preserves; (2) adding a new 10-bed treatment program for female teens in the county’s youth center that will create a net increase of 5.46 jobs; and (3) budgets for the county’s public health and community support & treatment service (CSTS) departments.

During the meeting, the board also honored the nonprofit Dawn Farm on its 40th anniversary, and recognized Bill McFarlane, the long-time Superior Township supervisor who recently announced his resignation due to health issues. Commissioners also supported renaming the county-owned Head Start building in Ypsilanti in honor of the late Charles Beatty Sr., a pioneer in early childhood education.

Topics that emerged during public commentary included a plea to urge state legislators to repeal Michigan’s version of a “stand your ground” law. Board chair Yousef Rabhi indicated his intent to bring forward such a resolution on Sept. 18 – similar to one passed by the Ann Arbor city council on Aug. 8, 2013. Rabhi also plans to introduce a resolution on Sept. 18 advocating for stronger cleanup standards of 1,4 dioxane – the contaminant in an underground plume caused by Pall-Gelman’s Scio Township operations. The Ann Arbor city council passed a resolution on Sept. 3, 2013 related to this issue.

Also on Sept. 18, a public hearing will be held to get input on a proposed increase to the Washtenaw County tax that supports services for indigent veterans and their families. The current rate is 0.0286 mills – or 1/35th of a mill. The new proposed rate of 1/30th of a mill would be levied in December 2013 to fund services in 2014. It’s expected to generate $463,160 in revenues. The public hearing was scheduled by commissioners at their Sept. 4 meeting. [Full Story]

Head Start Advocates Make Emotional Plea

Washtenaw County board of commissioners working session (Oct. 20, 2011): The fate of Washtenaw Head Start was the focus of the county board’s most recent working session, as advocates for the preschool program filled the boardroom and lobbied for continued support. A proposal to relinquish control of Head Start, which the county has administered and helped fund for 46 years, is part of the 2012-2013 budget.

Head Start supporters

Washtenaw Head Start supporters filled the county boardroom on Oct. 20 at a working session of the board of commissioners. (Photo by the writer.)

Eighteen people spoke during public commentary, many of them staff or parents of children in Head Start – and many with their children in tow. They described how transformative the preschool program has been in their lives, and made passionate appeals for the county to keep administering it.

The county administration first made a formal proposal to the board at a July 21 working session, when county administrator Verna McDaniel and her staff laid out details of a transition. McDaniel noted that the county isn’t in the business of education, and that it made sense to consider moving the program to another grantee – especially in light of a projected $17.5 million general fund deficit that the county was facing in 2012-2013.

If approved by the board, the county would notify the federal Head Start program of its intent to relinquish its grantee status. County support would continue through 2012 – a line item of $528,000 for 2012 is in the proposed general fund budget, part of Head Start’s total $4.8 million budget. But the county would hand off the local Head Start to federal administrators at the start of 2013. Federal officials would then be responsible for selecting another agency to take over the program.

Pat Horne McGee – Washtenaw Head Start’s executive director – received a standing ovation from the audience at the start of her presentation to commissioners. She noted that October is national Head Start awareness month, and that usually she’s there to accept a board resolution of appreciation. Horne McGee then reviewed a 9-page document she had originally distributed to the board this summer, which highlighted the program’s achievements and economic impact, and which proposed alternatives that would allow the county to continue administering the program.

Several commissioners stated their support for Head Start, but noted that the county wasn’t best-suited to administer it. However, Ronnie Peterson protested bitterly over how the process was being handled, accusing others – but not naming anyone specifically – of holding backroom talks with Washtenaw Intermediate School District officials about taking over the program. [The county could have input on the choice, but would not be empowered to decide which agency is selected. The possibility of WISD being the next grantee was discussed at the July 21 working session – Peterson attended that meeting and expressed similar concerns.]

It’s likely that commissioners will continue to discuss the future of Head Start, as part of their ongoing budget deliberations. They have until the end of the year to approve the budget, but only three more regular meetings are scheduled before then.

The Oct. 20 working session also included a very brief presentation about the county’s contracts for outside professional services. This report focuses on the topic of Head Start. [Full Story]

Proposed County Budget Brings Cuts

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (Sept. 21, 2011): County administrator Verna McDaniel and the county’s finance staff formally presented the two-year general fund budget on Sept. 21, showing how the administration proposes to balance the 2012-2013 budget with a mix of labor concessions, fee increases and funding cuts. Previously, an estimated $17.5 million deficit had been projected for that two-year period.

Ronnie Peterson and supporters of Washtenaw HeadStart program

County commissioner Ronnie Peterson, right, talks with supporters of the Washtenaw Head Start program. (Photos by the writer.)

Although the budget calls for a net loss of 32.22 full-time-equivalent jobs, most of those positions are either already vacant or will be handled through retirements, McDaniel said. One significant retirement was recognized during the meeting: Donna Sabourin, executive director of the county’s community support & treatment services (CSTS) department, who’s worked for the county for 20 years. Commissioners awarded her a resolution of appreciation, and also gave final approval to the CSTS budget for the coming year.

But the meeting’s main focus was the proposed general fund budget, which was discussed at length and will be the topic of most board meetings and working sessions at least through November. The county budget is based on a calendar year, from Jan. 1 through Dec. 31, and is developed in two-year cycles.

Among the recommended cuts is a reduction of $1.2 million to local nonprofits and other agencies. For example, funding for the Humane Society of Huron Valley’s contract is proposed to drop from $500,000 in 2011 to $250,000 in 2012 and 2013. The Delonis Center homeless shelter’s funding could decline from $160,000 to $25,000.

The budget also calls for the county to relinquish its status as the federal “grantee” for the Head Start program in Washtenaw County, which would trigger a process to find a replacement entity. The county has administered the program for 46 years. About a dozen Head Start supporters showed up to Wednesday’s meeting, and urged commissioners to continue support for the program.

Though commissioners had several questions and comments about the 2012-2013 budget, several of them expressed even more concern for what’s on the horizon: Projected deficits of $11.6 million in 2014 and $14.7 million in 2015.

Board chair Conan Smith characterized the 2012-2013 budget as a recommendation that’s “ripe for public discussion at this point.” Everything is still on the table, he said. The board is expected to take up the topic again at its Oct. 5 meeting, and a public hearing on the budget is set for Oct. 19. The target date for approving the budget is Nov. 16.

There was no vote taken on the 2012-2013 budget directly, but the board took action on several other budget-related items. Among them, commissioners gave final approval to levy two taxes: for (1) services for indigent veterans; and (2) economic development and agriculture.

The board also passed a resolution in support of developing a regional transportation authority, after a failed attempt to postpone the vote. The resolution is a prelude to a Sept. 30 summit with Detroit and the counties of Wayne, Oakland, Macomb and St. Clair, which will focus on region transit issues.

Two issues of note did not come before the board as expected. A proposed reorganization of county administration was pulled from the agenda at the start of the meeting. It would have replaced the deputy administrator position by giving additional responsibilities to four managers, paying them annual stipends of $15,000 each. The stipends were a sticking point – during public commentary, AFSCME Local 2733 president Caryette Fenner objected to the timing of that pay, in light of recent labor concessions made by employees.

And not on the agenda was an anticipated proposal by the Washtenaw County Road Commission, which was discussed by the board at its Sept. 8 working session. The road commission is presenting a request for a countywide millage to help pay for road repair. It’s a tax that the county board could impose without seeking voter approval. The plan was subsequently submitted to the county clerk on Friday, and could be addressed at the board’s Oct. 5 meeting. [Full Story]

Options Weighed for Washtenaw Head Start

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. [Full Story]