Local leaders meet over Toledo Head Start future
By Kevin Milliken for La Prensa
Feb. 14, 2012: Nearly two dozen leaders met Friday in Toledo Mayor Mike Bell’s office over the future of Head Start in metro Toledo, but no clear path emerged from the meeting.
Many of those leaders stepped off elevators in the One Government Center lobby following the 90-minute meeting and declined comment, including University of Toledo President Dr. Lloyd Jacobs and Margarita De León, the lone Latino representative.
The federal government has told long-time Lucas County Head Start provider the Economic Opportunity Planning Association (EOPA) that it must compete for continued funding, currently about $13 million per year. Toledo Public Schools (TPS) also has expressed an interest in pursuing the program and its federal funding.
Head Start is a national preschool program designed to better prepare low-income children by enhancing their social and cognitive development through educational, health, nutritional, social, and other services. The children receive health and developmental screenings and their families are enrolled in other support services. Hundreds of low-income Latino children are among 2,043 preschool-age children enrolled in the program.
Former mayor and Toledo Public Schools board of education member Jack Ford described the meeting “as a good discussion.”
“You’ve got to put your cards on the table,” Ford said.
TPS board of education president Lisa Sobecki, board member Brenda Hill, and Superintendent Jerome Pecko also attended the meeting. Ms. Hill and others stated they felt much better following the discussion than they did individually heading into the meeting.
“We realize that different people have different ideas and different ways to look at Head Start and we know there is a lot of interest for the grant, but the consensus in the meeting was that we’re looking at the advancement of the children first,” said Ms. Hill, a retired educator.
“We also have said that we are going to cooperate. We want the grant, we want the community to approve, and we’re going to get together, and work, and figure out a way to cooperatively get this grant. Nobody’s going to be able to get this grant by themselves.”
“All we want to do is make sure we’re doing the best thing for our kids,” said Mayor Mike Bell. “It was about bringing everybody in so we could talk about how we do this in a collaborative way. I think the discussions were very good in that direction.”
James Powell, EOPA executive director, and EOPA board members Sylvester Gould and Richard Jackson also attended the meeting, but left without public comment.
Others present at the meeting included elected officials and representatives from charitable and religious organizations. State representative Michael Ashford, state senator Edna Brown, Lucas County Commissioner Pete Gerken, Bill Kitson (president/CEO of the United Way of Greater Toledo), and Keith Burwell, president/CEO of the Toledo Community Foundation, also attended.
No firm commitments were made at the meeting about what agency or organization would fulfill which role in the grant application. No date was announced for a follow-up meeting, either. But most officials recognized that federal funding is limited, so any successful bid for future dollars must involve the collaboration of several agencies going forward.
“We all want to help the children in all of Lucas County improve so that they are ready for kindergarten,” said Ms. Hill. “We really all have the same goal and the same desire to have kindergarten-ready children, so that when they get to school they can advance.”
“I think there is concern and people do care here,” said Mayor Bell. “I think by the time this program is rolled out, it’s going to be really good for the community.”
On the Internet: Head Start, helping young Latino families, https://laprensatoledo.com/Stories/2012/012012/headstart.htm