Federal bureaucrats made an unsettling decision to divide the contract to operate Toledo’s Head Start preschool program between a community partnership led by Toledo Public Schools and a private, for-profit company in Pittsburgh. Both providers now must work to achieve positive results for the children the program will serve.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said last week that the TPS collaborative will get $8.1 million over five years to serve 1,126 children, while Brightside Academy will get nearly $5 million to educate 455 children. HHS regulators will review each provider’s performance annually.
Over time, the TPS community-based group needs to show it can run the Head Start program in Toledo and Lucas County by itself. The TPS model encourages local collaboration, while an off-site, private national chain could skate around demands for accountability. If Brightside — or TPS — does not perform well, its contract should be revoked.
Brightside officials say they have every intention of working with TPS and the community as they fulfill their part of the contract. The Toledo contract is the company’s first direct Head Start grant, but it has provided Head Start services in various cities. Brightside says it will offer full day care from birth to age 5 for the children covered by its contract.
In 2012, Brightside closed two of its three child-care centers in Toledo after it got poor ratings from state monitors. Under the Head Start contract, the company plans to reopen its facilities on Lagrange Street and Woodville Road and to continue to use the City Park Avenue building.
Brightside Chief Executive Officer Mark Kehoe told The Blade the company made an internal decision to “manage resources” by closing the two facilities, although he acknowledged their low rankings. Inspection reports show they were also cited for health violations such as expired baby food, inadequate water temperatures at toddler hand-washing sinks, and food stored on the floor.
The company’s pre-kindergarten programs elsewhere have had problems. A New York Daily News investigation published this month found that a Brightside Academy school in the South Bronx was cited 100 times in the past five years for health code violations.
Mr. Kehoe says the 90-plus employees his company will hire for the Toledo program will be accountable for environmental compliance and good educational outcomes. “Judge me on my results,” he says. Toledoans need to do just that.
The fragmented Head Start partnership — and Brightside’s spotty history — will require close oversight by federal regulators. This community cannot tolerate the kind of previous mismanagement of Head Start that caused HHS to seek a new local provider.
Assuring the welfare of the children in the Head Start program is what counts. That begins with local officials performing well and ultimately regaining full control of the program.
TPS and its partners must step up. They need to show they can run the county’s Head Start program, locally and alone.