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A Denver company will run Head Start in Lucas County while the federal government conducts a second round of bids, a serious blow to the Toledo community action agency that currently runs the early childhood education program.
The Economic Opportunity Planning Association of Greater Toledo's $13 million Head Start grant runs out June 30.
When the grant ends, the Community Development Institute will serve as an interim provider while the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services solicits local applicants for the grant.
The local grant was one of dozens that HHS put up for competition for the first time, but the department announced last week that none of the local applicants, which included EOPA and Toledo Public Schools, had submitted bids that met their standards.
The Head Start grant constitutes the bulk of EOPA's $19.5 million budget.
The loss of the grant would transform the agency but would not shut it down, said the Rev. Donald Perryman, EOPA board chairman.
“We are more than just Head Start, [and the loss of the grant] would not cause us to close our doors,” Mr. Perryman said. “We have a mission to support and empower the most vulnerable children and families [in Toledo], and we will continue to do that.”
The loss of Head Start was a surprise to Mr. Perryman, who said EOPA has not been given formal notice by HHS and had been prepared to run the program through 2014.
“We certainly don't think it's necessary to bring an out-of-town company to run Head Start,” Mr. Perryman said.
Yvette Sanchez Fuentes, director of the Office of Head Start, said a new bid opportunity would likely be announced by the end of spring.
While EOPA and TPS can reapply for the grant, Ms. Sanchez Fuentes said the department wants to see if additional organizations have interest in running the program.
“We want to see if we can get more competition,” she said.
The Community Development Institute contracts with the HHS' Administration for Children and Families to serve as interim-provider for Head Start programs when a grant recipiant’s responsibilities end, either voluntarily or by federal requirement.
Ms. Sanchez Fuentes said CDI runs 34 Head Start programs.
She said CDI will negotiate with EOPA about possible use of current sites; EOPA leases several TPS properties for much of its Head Start program.
The end of EOPA's grant will place the future of the agency's more than 300 Head Start employees in flux. Employment with CDI is not guaranteed, according to its Web site, and all current Head Start workers will have to compete for jobs.
Head Start staff are represented by the Ohio Association of Public School Employees. Attempts to reach an OAPSE representative on Wednesday were unsuccessful.
While Ms. Sanchez Fuentes could not give specific reasons why neither TPS nor EOPA won the grant, she said her office did not have confidence any of the local applicants could provide the high quality of services they required.
Unsuccessful bidders received letters Wednesday that include critiques of their applications by the review panel. Ms. Sanchez Fuentes said she hoped the Toledo agencies that didn't win the grant would use those notes if they decide to apply again.
In December, 2011, EOPA learned that it was among 125 Head Start grant recipients that did not meet “quality thresholds,” and would have to compete for the first time to retain the program.
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 organizations.
Last week, 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 grant recipients will be announced in July, once negotiations are complete.
Lucas County's Head Start grant was among about 5 percent across the nation that had no qualified bidder.
Mr. Perryman said EOPA will apply for the Head Start grant in the next bidding round. He said he hoped a community collaborative could form to bid on the grant, including EOPA and TPS. Attempts to develop a similar relationship during the first round fizzled.
Contact Nolan Rosenkrans at: firstname.lastname@example.org 419-724-6086, or on Twitter @NolanRosenkrans.