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Published: Thursday, 3/1/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

TPS, agency square off in bid to run Head Start

EOPA accuses board of sheer money grab

BY NOLAN ROSENKRANS
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Sylvester Gould, first vice chairman of the Economic Opportunity Planning Association board. Sylvester Gould, first vice chairman of the Economic Opportunity Planning Association board.
THE BLADE/AMY E. VOIGT Enlarge | Buy This Photo

A night's sleep didn't seem to cool tempers a day after the growing dispute over who should run Toledo's Head Start program took a public, confrontational turn.

The Toledo Board of Education voted 5-0 Tuesday to authorize Superintendent Jerome Pecko to apply for the $13 million grant to run Head Start, a move that dozens of supporters of the grant holder, the Economic Opportunity Planning Association of Greater Toledo, protested. The planning association 's supporters criticized what they consider an attempt to dismantle one of the few remaining black institutions left in Toledo.

"This seems like the money grab that it really is," said Sylvester Gould, first vice chairman of the planning association's board.

Several, including former mayor and school board member Jack Ford, framed the dispute as a battle between a black organization committed to the poor, and better funded, politically supported, white groups, and brought their concerns to The Blade editorial board Wednesday.

Board of education President Lisa Sobecki took umbrage with the characterization, as well as with threats that the black community would not support future TPS levies, and said that the school district is not attempting a takeover of Head Start, but is applying for an open grant. The planning association recently was notified it must compete with other agencies for the first time to keep the program.

Ms. Sobecki said the board is open to continued collaboration with the agency. "We didn't burn any bridges last night," she said Wednesday. "The fire on the bridge was put on last night by EOPA."

Mr. Ford joined former Mayor Carty Finkbeiner, planning association board member Vince Davis, and the Rev. Kevin Bedford, president of Toledo's NAACP chapter, in criticizing The Blade's editorial board, TPS, the United Way, the Toledo Community Foundation, and others for not supporting the agency in the past, and moving in on the Head Start grant.

"I view this clearly as probably the 1 percenters going against the 99," Mr. Bedford said.

Mr. Finkbeiner said there has been a concerted effort for more than a year from several prominent white Toledoans to take Head Start from the planning association, purely for the money. "There were no African-Americans among those advocating that this happen," he said. "It was a group of good ol' white boys."

TPS officials argue the district could improve the academic performance of students who go through the program. An in-house study suggested there is not much difference between students who go through Head Start in Toledo and those who don't.

Mr. Pecko said he still could see a partnership with the agency, despite the harsh rhetoric, and hoped to meet with the agency's supporters in coming weeks. "I am not interested in dismantling any organization in this town that has done some good things, and I think [EOPA] has," he said. "But we are just focused on the Head Start program. The grant has been made available for reasons I don't even attempt to explore, and we feel we are qualified to do a quality job."

Meanwhile, two local political leaders cited Tuesday by Mr. Gould as planning association supporters said Wednesday they don't favor any single entity, but a collaborative approach. Lucas County Commissioner Pete Gerken said an application for Head Start should be "as broadly community-based as possible."

"This must be a community effort," Mr. Gerken said in a statement, "and not a battle over control."

Mayor Mike Bell also threw his support behind a community effort, advocating that all groups wait for the recommendations of a 13-person task force assembled recently by the Toledo Community Foundation to examine best practices by Head Start programs nationwide.

"Allow the task force to do their work and get the key stakeholders all involved," city spokesman Jen Sorgenfrei said.

Contact Nolan Rosenkrans at: nrosenkrans@theblade.com or 419-724-6086.



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