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Published: Friday, 12/16/2011 - Updated: 2 years ago

Federal government chides Head Start over child-safety lapse

BY KATE GIAMMARISE
BLADE STAFF WRITER
EOPA Executive Director James Powell EOPA Executive Director James Powell
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The agency that oversees the Head Start program for children in Lucas County has been chastised by the federal government during a recent review, according to a letter obtained by The Blade.

The letter states that during a review conducted in November by the federal Administration for Children and Families, of the Department of Health and Human Services, "at least one area of deficiency was identified that posed an imminent harm or immediate danger" to children in the program.

The letter cites a November incident during which a child attending the Jefferson Avenue Head Start center was left on the bus "unattended for an unspecified amount of time."

In Lucas County, Head Start, a preschool program for children from low-income families, is administered by the Economic Opportunity Planning Association of Greater Toledo.

EOPA Executive Director James Powell said the child was on the bus alone "momentarily." He added, "It was observed by the bus driver and reported, and we took immediate action." The employee responsible was put on unpaid leave and ultimately discharged, Mr. Powell stated.

According to the letter from the federal department, the incident occurred on Nov. 7. "A teacher assistant placed a child on the bus and left her unattended while he retrieved a hat left inside the center. The bus driver responsible for the route entered the bus and found the child strapping herself into her seat." The bus driver told the teacher's supervisor and the incident was reported to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services the next day, the letter states.

According to EOPA's 2010 tax return, the organization has a budget of more than $19 million -- the vast majority of which was Head Start funding. Tax records state it also administers an energy assistance program, emergency home repair program, homeless prevention program, and fatherhood program.

EOPA has a turbulent past, marked by financial and oversight problems and infighting among board members with a number of board members departing.

Mr. Powell was appointed to head EOPA in early 2009 after a struggle among different board factions. He was hired by the group in 1989, working there as head of the minority contractors and business assistance program until 1992. He returned to the agency in 1995. He served as the agency's deputy director beginning in 2001, through 2008, when he became interim executive director.

Tax records indicate he was paid an annual salary of $108,001 in 2010.

A federal review of EOPA's Head Start program released in 2009 said it had fallen below its enrollment benchmarks and questioned why the group used $127,000 of Head Start grant money to pay for new phones. Later that year, EOPA dismissed the head of its Head Start program, Sylvia Huntley. She had been with the agency since 1994.

The letter from the Department of Health and Human Services lists James Hopkins as the agency's Interim Head Start director.

On Thursday, Mr. Powell said as of Nov. 22, Albert Scott has been appointed to lead EOPA's Head Start; the agency had been operating with an interim director. Mr. Scott has been with the agency since 2002, when he was hired as deputy director of programs. He is a former Toledo Public Schools teacher and administrator.

EOPA and its Head Start have also had financial problems.

For several years, EOPA owed more than $500,000 to the Ohio Department of Education, stemming from $654,292 in start-up funds it received for an early learning initiative, but then did not receive a competitive grant to administer the program and was required to pay back the funds.

EOPA paid back a total of $101,325, but the remainder of the amount owed to the education department was vetoed by former Gov. Ted Strickland in House Bill 1, the 2009-2010 budget bill, so the program is not obligated to make any further payments. The remaining amount due was $552,967.53.

Contact Kate Giammarise at: kgiammarise@theblade.com or 419-724-6091.



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