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Published: Friday, 12/26/2008

Head count down at Head Start

BY KATE GIAMMARISE
BLADE STAFF WRITER
'It depends on when you take it - the day [of the week] you take it, the weather conditions, whether you count just our sites or our partnerships - a whole number of conditions,' says James Powell, the new executive dir-
ector of the Economic Opportunity Planning Association of Greater Toledo Inc. 'It depends on when you take it - the day [of the week] you take it, the weather conditions, whether you count just our sites or our partnerships - a whole number of conditions,' says James Powell, the new executive dir- ector of the Economic Opportunity Planning Association of Greater Toledo Inc.
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An attendance head count of children in Lucas County Head Start classrooms performed by a local accounting firm in March counted 1,439 students - about 600 fewer children than the 2,043 students the agency that runs Head Start locally says are enrolled.

The Economic Opportunity Planning Association of Greater Toledo Inc., or EOPA, receives about $12 million annually - the majority of its budget - from the federal government to administer Head Start, a preschool program for low-income families. The funding is based largely on enrollment.

James Powell, the agency's new executive director, said the discrepancy could depend on a number of factors.

"It depends on when you take it - the day [of the week] you take it, the weather conditions, whether you count just our sites or our partnerships - a whole number of conditions," Mr. Powell said.

The head count was performed on March 17 and 18 of this year, and was requested by a group of EOPA board members. National Weather Service data shows 0.2 inches of snow on March 17, with an average temperature of 30 degrees. The next day, the average temperature was 44 degrees, with a moderate amount of rain.

Mr. Powell said the agency has not been cited for under-enrollment. Enrollment levels at Head

Start grantees are monitored by the federal government, according to a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. If a Head Start program is deemed chronically underenrolled, it could face reduced funding.

Andre Washington, a staff representative with the Ohio Association of Public School Employees, which represents nearly 300 Head Start workers, said he believes the attendance head count might have gotten lost in the shuffle with current board members because of the past year's turmoil and turnover on the board.

"I've questioned this [enrollment] number for years," he said.

Board President Jay Black, Jr., said he was not familiar with the March head count. He did not join the board until May.

The count was mentioned in a report submitted to the Ohio Department of Development in June by a group of board members seeking to reform EOPA. The members "repeatedly asked the Head Start administrators for a recruitment plan to no avail," the report states.

EOPA's longtime executive director, Oscar B. Griffith, died in November, 2007, after leading the agency since 1976. The board has faced struggles in the last year over leadership. A number of board members have resigned during the past year, several of whom expressed frustration with the way the agency was being run.

"The activities over the past five months have been aimed at controlling the $12 million Head Start dollars," wrote former board member Ardenia Jones Terry in her letter of resignation. "The control of the Head Start dollars is being accomplished by 1) stacking the EOPA board of trustees and 2) attempting to place a lesser qualified candidate in the permanent executive director position."

Last month, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services conducted a review of finance and governance issues at EOPA. The results of the review are not yet available.

The Head Start attendance count was obtained by The Blade through a public records request. It was performed in March by the local accounting firm Weber O'Brien Ltd., which also performs financial audits for EOPA. A message left at Weber O'Brien was not returned.

The three-page document lists the classroom locations, teacher names, and the number of children in each classroom. Some classrooms had as many as 16 children, and several had as few as one, two, or three children. One classroom didn't have any children in it.

The Blade has repeatedly requested from EOPA, beginning nearly two months ago, the names of the children locally enrolled in Head Start. Sylvia Huntley, who heads the agency's Head Start program, did not return a call seeking comment.

EOPA receives $12,211,557 annually for having 2,043 children in Head Start, according to the federal department of Health and Human Services.

According to the department, EOPA's Head Start funded enrollment has been at 2,043 children since 2002.

The department monitors enrollment in many ways, said Ken Wolfe, a Health and Human Services spokesman.

EOPA and other Head Start grantees are required to report their enrollment level and the reasons for underenrollment, if any, on a monthly basis. Enrollment data is collected as of the end of the month, according to Mr. Wolfe.

Those that are underenrolled by 3 percent or more for four consecutive months must develop a plan for fixing their underenrollment.

Grantees have 12 months to implement the plan, and "if full enrollment is not achieved at the end of the 12-month period, we will designate the grantee as chronically under-enrolled and either recapture, withhold, or reduce the Head Start grant for the program," Mr. Wolfe wrote in an e-mail to The Blade.

The enrollment data is self-reported by EOPA and other Head Start grantees. Confirmation of enrollment data normally occurs through the triennial (once every three years) monitoring review all Head Starts undergo, Mr. Wolfe said.

Mr. Wolfe said he was not familiar with the March, 2008, EOPA attendance count.

He said a separate 2007 audit tested enrollment on three dates and found 2,004, 2,015, and 1,913 children enrolled, respectively.

Contact Kate Giammarise at:

kgiammarise@theblade.com

or 419-724-6133.



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