The dispute over who should control Toledo's Head Start program escalated Tuesday night at the Toledo Board of Education meeting.
Dozens of supporters of the Economic Opportunity Planning Association of Greater Toledo and members of the union that represents Toledo Head Start employees attended the meeting to show opposition to a possible competing application by TPS for the $13 million grant to run Head Start. That opposition was met with resolve by the board, which at the end of the meeting voted unanimously to direct Superintendent Jerome Pecko to apply for the grant.
The dispute is likely to get more intense in coming weeks. A state senator and two former mayors were at Tuesday's meeting, and EOPA officials said they also have the support of Lucas County commissioner Peter Gerken and current Toledo mayor Mike Bell.
Lines were drawn Tuesday, pressure placed, threats made.
Sylvester Gould, first vice chairman of the EOPA's board, reminded TPS officials that the central Toledo community has long supported levies for the district.
"You folks think that we have short memories," Mr. Gould said. "We are not going to have short memories."
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 is run locally by EOPA, which recently was notified it must compete with other agencies for the first time if it wants to keep the program. About 2,000 low-income students are enrolled in Toledo.
At stake for EOPA may be its very existence, as Head Start funds constitute much of the association's budget.
EOPA, Head Start workers, and their supporters want TPS to partner with EOPA, and possibly other Toledo institutions such as the University of Toledo, to file a joint application for the Head Start grant. Andre Washington, union representative for the Ohio Association of Public School Employees, said Mr. Pecko would not give him a guarantee that TPS would hire the more than 300 union employees if the district took over Head Start.
A partnership would give stronger assurance that OAPSE employees would keep their jobs and that EOPA would remain intact. EOPA supporters also fear an out-of-town, for-profit company may move in without a combined Toledo effort.
"Partner with us," Mr. Washington said, "or leave the grant alone."
Former Mayors Jack Ford and Carty Finkbeiner attended the meeting. Mr. Finkbeiner said that instead of declaring "open season" on the Head Start grant, he wanted to see TPS and others work to strengthen the program and EOPA.
Mr. Ford spoke in stronger terms. At a time when many historically black Toledo institutions are struggling, EOPA's demise would be another blow to the black community in Toledo, he said.
"If TPS goes against EOPA," Mr. Ford said, "I don't think the black community will be as supportive of levies."
Mr. Ford also said that some in the Head Start competition are solely focused on money and that "TPS union leaders have said clearly that they want the jobs," many of which he said are now filled by single, black women.
Toledo Federation of Teachers president Kevin Dalton rejected Mr. Ford's assertion.
He said the union supports a TPS bid to run Head Start not because it would add jobs to TFT, but that TFT teachers could improve the quality of the program.
"I believe that there has been a learning gap," Mr. Dalton said. "I believe that addressing students at the preschool level affords us the opportunity to not only decrease the gap but eliminates the gap."
The board of education's decision to apply for the Head Start grant was made well after EOPA supporters, and most others, had left the meeting, and the resolution was not on the board's agenda before the meeting started. Board members have discussed for weeks a possible application for the grant.
Despite the resolution to apply for the grant, board members said Mr. Pecko should meet with EOPA and others, to see if they wanted to join with the district.
"Meet with EOPA, meet with the university, and tell them we are moving forward," board member Larry Sykes said. "If they are on board, [that's good]. If not … "
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