A who's who of local educators, community leaders, and elected officials is to meet Friday to discuss Toledo's Head Start grant, which could be in jeopardy.
"I thought it was a good idea to ask everybody that has an interest in this [grant] … to come together," said Pete Gerken, president of the Board of the Lucas County Comissioners.
Locally, Head Start is run by the Economic Opportunity Planning Association of Greater Toledo, which recently was notified it must compete with other agencies if it wants to keep receiving $13 million in federal funding.
Toledo Board of Education last month unanimously directed Superintendent Jerome Pecko to research the district's capacity to take over the program; other nonprofit and even for-profit groups also might be interested.
In addition to Mr. Gerken and Mr. Pecko, the meeting will include Toledo Mayor Mike Bell; United Way of Greater Toledo President Bill Kitson; Toledo Community Foundation President Keith Burwell; Dr. Lloyd Jacobs, University of Toledo president, and the Rev. Donald Perryman, pastor of Center of Hope Church.
The group might include the Rev. Kevin Bedford, president of Toledo's NAACP chapter, and Toledo Public Schools Board President Lisa Sobecki, according to several sources familiar with the invitation list.
Officials with the Economic Opportunity Planning Association, who are expected at the meeting, have said they will fight to keep the program, which the organization has operated for decades.
Mr. Pecko said the district is "full speed ahead" on looking to operate the program.
Head Start, a program for children from low-income families, enrolls more than 900,000 nationwide. It has enrolled more than 27 million children since it began in 1965.
The program has been under fire locally as the planning association has struggled with changes in the top job at Head Start. It recently appointed Albert Scott, a longtime planning association employee who spent several decades at TPS, as Head Start's director. He is the third director in as many years.
"Early childhood education as a foundation for academic success later in life is an important issue," said Jen Sorgenfrei, a spokesman for Mayor Bell. "The grown-ups have a responsibility to do it right and do it well on behalf of the kids that we're supposed to be serving."
She added, "It's too important to let it fail."
Mr. Kitson agreed on the need to focus on Head Start. "It's important that our community has the best proposal possible," he said. "But we also need to understand it's important to have EOPA and TPS work together on a successful proposal."
Added Mr. Burwell, "Several folks have not been talking face-to-face. It is always best to have those conversations in the same room." He said the community foundation is "working on the building blocks" of a group that can study Head Start best practices.
Pastor Perryman, a member of the association's board, said he wants to ensure "marginalized populations still have a voice," in the discussion.
Who will administer Head Start has been a hot topic, he said. "People have been talking about it -- in the streets and in the board rooms."
Staff writer Nolan Rosenkrans contributed to this report.
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