The seemingly never ending saga of who will run Head Start in Lucas County opened a new chapter today, when the federal government announced no applicants were good enough and another round of grant bids was needed.
The grant to run the early childhood education program in Lucas County was up for open competition for the first time, and current grant holder, the Economic Opportunity Planning Association of Greater Toledo, was in danger of losing the nearly $13 million in federal funds.
But when the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced preliminary bid winners for 160 Head Start grants, Lucas County was omitted. Instead, the department determined "none of these applications were able to meet our high standards as laid out in the funding opportunity announcement," spokesman Ted Froats said.
That means EOPA keeps Head Start for now, and a new bid process will start sometime this spring. And that also means the two publicly known bidders, EOPA and Toledo Public Schools, will have to wait months to find out who will run the program.
Both EOPA and TPS officials said they hadn't even been contacted by federal officials about the rejections., let alone given an explanation of why their bids were rejected.
"I would suggest that maybe they need to take another look at the one we wrote," TPS Superintendent Jerome Pecko said. "I thought it was state-of-the-art."
Robert Jordan, EOPA's interim chief executive officer, said he'd have to discuss with the agency's board before he could comment on the decision.
"I'm sure we will apply again," he said.
In December, 2011, EOPA learned that it was among 125 Head Start grantees who did not meet "quality thresholds," and would have to compete for the first time to retain the program. Head Start funding makes up the bulk of EOPA's $19.5 million budget, and the news threw the agency into turmoil. Chief Executive Officer James Powell was fired and other administrators left. The school district's entrance into the bid competition brought acrimony between the two organizations.
Today, HHS announced it was entering negotiations with 160 potential grant winners; there are more winners than previous grants because the department split some of them up among organizations. Final grantees will be announced in July, once negotiations are complete.
Lucas County's Head Start grant was among about 5 percent that had no qualified bidder.
The Department of Health and Human Services has declined to reveal how many or which organizations had applied, citing department policy. The agency said it only would reveal the successful applicant. So it's not even clear whose bids weren't good enough for HHS.
There was more finality in a neighboring county.
The department announced it chose the Monroe County Intermediate School District to take over Head Start in the county. The intermediate school district and the Monroe County Opportunity Program submitted grant proposals last year to operate the local Head Start, which serves about 353 children ages 3 to 5 years old from low-income families.
"We are very excited about the opportunity," said Donald Spencer, superintendent of the intermediate school district.
Health and Human Services contracted with the Community Development Institute to take over operations of Head Start in January, 2012, after Catholic Charities of Monroe relinquished control of the program.
Mr. Spencer said the intermediate school district has expanded programs and services for young children during the last 10 years and has operated Early Education Head Start in the county since 2008. The intermediate school district serves about 700 children through early intervention and special education programs.
Contact Nolan Rosenkrans at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6086, or on Twitter @NolanRosenkrans.
Staff writer Mark Reiter contributed to this report.