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Published: Monday, 1/28/2013

EOPA board members urging CEO's immediate exit

New federal Head Start reports show need for quick removal, some say

BY KATE GIAMMARISE
BLADE STAFF WRITER
James Powell is to step down no later than June 30, but that’s not soon enough for some board members at the EOPA. James Powell is to step down no later than June 30, but that’s not soon enough for some board members at the EOPA.
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Citing reports of unspent and improperly spent funds, and what some say are persistent management problems, several board members at a Toledo anti-poverty organization say they will use two federal reports that have come to light to attempt to immediately fire the agency’s CEO.

Board members already voted earlier this month to force James Powell, chief executive officer of the Economic Opportunity Planning Association of Greater Toledo, to step down no later than June 30. He has been the agency’s leader since 2009 and was deputy director from 2001 until 2008.

But several say their organization must get rid of Mr. Powell sooner if it is to have any hope of retaining its Head Start grant — the program for low-income preschoolers that makes up most of the agency’s funding. The agency is awaiting the results of a re-competition for the program. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is expected to announce in the next several months if EOPA will retain the program, or at least part of it, or if another entity such as the Toledo Public Schools or a for-profit operator will run Head Start in Lucas County.

“Our first order of business is to satisfy HHS,” said the Rev. Donald Perryman, a board member who favors immediately dismissing Mr. Powell to show the federal government the agency is serious about making changes.

An attempt to immediately oust Mr. Powell failed during a board vote at a special meeting earlier this month.

But Sylvester Gould, another board member who has been vocal about his view that Mr. Powell needs to go, said he believes his fellow board members will vote to dismiss Mr. Powell based on two federal reviews of the Head Start program that had not previously been presented to the board. Additionally, there are two new board members who have been appointed since that meeting.

In one report, a monitoring review by the Department of Health and Human Services conducted in 2011, federal reviewers criticized the agency for using $62,555.79 in Head Start funds to pay purchase costs for a facility without proper approval. EOPA charged interest expenses related to the purchase of the St. James Head Start Center, 874 Orchard St., to the Head Start program during a period of several years, according to the review documents.

But Board President Richard Jackson said those funds have since repaid to the Head Start program, with interest. As far as he is concerned, Mr. Jackson added, corrective action has been taken on every issue raised in the reports.

“None of this stuff is recent,” he added.

Another report, a risk assessment of various aspects of the Head Start program, federal reviewers cited the agency for “consistent under-enrollment at the start of the program year.” Reviewers also criticized the agency for not properly verifying all the children it enrolled were income eligible for Head Start, saying it had served 207 children whose family incomes exceeded limits.

The report also noted Head Start’s regional office received several complaints against EOPA from former board members who “resigned from the board because they were not receiving clarity on a lot of financial reports,” and requested information was never made available.

Paula Ross, who was recently appointed to the board, said she was troubled by indications that board members were not fully informed about problems at the agency. However, Ms. Ross said she was pleased to see reviews of Head Start classrooms were positive.

“We ranked above the national average,” she said.

Board member Vince Davis said he anticipates a “lively discussion” at Monday’s meeting.

“I think the big question would be who would be the successor in the interim,” he said, in the event of Mr. Powell’s immediate departure.

Mr. Jackson said the board has already voted that Mr. Powell must leave the agency by the end of June, and the board should move on.

“I have no disagreement that Mr. Powell’s time has come. But let’s follow the process.”

Contact Kate Giammarise at: kgiammarise@theblade.com or 419-724-6091, or on Twitter @KateGiammarise.



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