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A group of Toledo organizations is discussing a joint application for the local Head Start grant, a turnaround from what had been a contentious competition over the federal funds.
The organizations have been meeting quietly for several months, said Keith Burwell, the Toledo Community Foundation’s executive director. Those meetings culminated on Wednesday with a joint session that included U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo), national Head Start Director Yvette Sanchez Fuentes, and representatives of the group, which includes Toledo Public Schools, the Economic Opportunity Planning Association of Greater Toledo, the YMCA/JCC, the University of Toledo, and the United Way of Greater Toledo, among others.
For decades, the federally funded program was administered locally by the Economic Opportunity Planning Association of Greater Toledo. The local $13 million grant was one of dozens that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services initially put up for competition in 2011, but none of the bids, including those from EOPA and TPS, was selected.
Efforts to develop a community partnership fell apart during that competition round, with, at times, public sniping between EOPA and TPS. Now, they are at least at the same table, in part because the Head Start grant is controlled by out-of-towners.
Community Development Institute, a Denver firm, took over the program in Lucas County on July 1 and will run Head Start until HHS selects a new grant winner in a fresh competition announced earlier this year. Applicants have until Oct. 21 to submit bids. Federal budget cuts have reduced the grant to about $12 million.
While the members of the group have not yet committed to submit a joint or collaborative application, they have agreed to talk about collaboration and transparency with one another. Each organization had to sign a memorandum of understanding that calls for it to be open about the application process and to disclose intentions.
Mr. Burwell said the group members have moved away from talking about who gets what in a partnership to conversations about “how do we create the best program for the children.”
Wednesday’s meeting, held at the University of Toledo’s Driscoll Alumni Center, was essentially broken into three parts.
The first included lengthy comments by Miss Kaptur, Ms. Sanchez Fuentes and others about the importance of a communitywide effort to serve as many students in poverty as possible. About 2,000 children are served by Head Start in Lucas County, while area officials say there are thousands more who qualify for the program. The concept of a citywide, collaborative approach would allow for a Head Start expansion if local partners contribute and save dollars for education.
“I think it’s going to take all of us rethinking our job,” Miss Kaptur said, “to wrap our arms around this community.”
For instance, instead of spending money on dental care, a dental health provider could do that work and possibly be reimbursed through other federal dollars. The meeting Wednesday also included a lengthy presentation by Ms. Sanchez Fuentes and her staff about the grant application process, what Head Start looks for in applications, and where entities make mistakes in their submissions. She spoke about how the Washington program doubled its Head Start enrollment by leveraging community partners.
At the end, group members discussed next steps, though they remained vague. The community foundation has endorsed hiring an outside consultant to coordinate a collaborative grant application.
The group, if it does a joint or collaborative application, faces a tight deadline, and Mr. Burwell said a consultant would help expedite the process. But that plan hit a snag Wednesday, when the one of two proposed consultants had a less than impressive display.
Acelero Learning, a for-profit company that runs Head Start programs or organizes collaborations, had proposed a work plan that included help with the application and implementation.
But Acelero representatives said during a conference call that they’ve also signed a contract with Brightside Academy, a Pittsburgh-based, for-profit early-education and child-care provider with locations in Toledo, to help it either work on a collaborative bid or itself apply for the grant. Brightside Academy had considered applying for the Head Start grant last year.
Many of the members of Wednesday’s group were visibly unhappy with the revelation, questioning if Acelero already had a conflict of interest and pointing out that several Brightside sites in Toledo had shut down after poor performance.
There is a second proposal by consultants that the group may consider today, while some group members suggested entities within Toledo could do the work themselves. And group members discussed a possible conference call Friday to decide on a next step.
Even if the group agrees on a next step, some of the major players will need formal decisions to do a collaborative bid.