TPS to vie for Head Start funding, oppose EOPA
By Kevin Milliken for La Prensa
March 6, 2012: The Toledo Public Schools (TPS) board of education has decided to pursue $13 million in federal Head Start funding, opposing the Economic Opportunity Planning Association (EOPA) in a competition for the preschool education program.
The TPS board voted unanimously to direct the school superintendent to file an application for “management and oversight” of Lucas County Head Start at its monthly meeting, following an executive session and public pleas from EOPA officials. However, a resolution the school board passed states that district officials “will continue to meet with the leadership of other local organizations to discuss collaborative programming opportunities” to benefit preschoolers enrolled in Head Start.
TPS and EOPA officials had met with other community leaders in the Toledo Mayor Mike Bell’s office last month, pledging to work together for the betterment of the community’s children.
“The board of education’s decision to seek to be the grantee for Head Start is wrong-headed,” said Sylvester Gould, an EOPA board member and its vice chairman. “We want you to partner with us, not replace us. A community application is what’s best for this community.”
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.
The TPS board of education first directed Superintendent Jerome Pecko to explore a possible Head Start bid in early January. According to the school board resolution, district officials “have come to the conclusion” that TPS is “a viable entity to operate a successful Head Start program.” However, the legislation offers no specific criteria or methods used in such an evaluation.
The pleas of EOPA’s board members and the union representing Head Start workers quickly began to more resemble veiled threats. One of them reminded the school board that TPS plans to put a levy on the ballot later this year.
“You will tear at the social fabric of this community,” warned Gould, whose deceased parents were both retired TPS teachers. “I never thought I’d sit up here, not one day, and say that I’d work to defeat a levy. You folks think that we have short memories. We are not going to have short memories.”
State senator Edna Brown and former Toledo mayors Carty Finkbeiner and Jack Ford also attended the board of education meeting in a show of support for EOPA, but none of them spoke. Ford served a term on the school board before deciding not to run again due to health reasons.
Dr. Pecko told the school board at least two other entities—one local and one out-of-state—were looking at possibly submitting applications to run the Head Start program. At least one of those is a for-profit company.
“It’s not just the Toledo Public Schools,” the superintendent said. “There will be several others.”
Dr. Pecko told the board of education that district administrators have been “earnest and very aggressive” in seeking potential community partners for the TPS Head Start bid. He stated TPS had “commitments from several very significant partners,” but refused to elaborate publicly.
“We need to sit down and understand it’s not about who’s in control,” countered TPS board member Larry Sykes. “It’s about what we build and the success that we get out of it.”
EOPA currently employs more than 300 Head Start workers, many of them minority single mothers. If TPS took over the program, the early childhood development educators likely would come from the ranks of the Toledo Federation of Teachers (TFT). Those workers currently are represented by the Ohio Association of Public School Employees (OAPSE).
“I urge the district to continue to seek the grant,” said Kevin Dalton, TFT president. “I support the district’s initiative to be the grantee for the Head Start program. Our preschool program is a testament of what we can do. It is one of the few programs in the district that is growing.”
Some parents even spoke out in favor of EOPA keeping Head Start, citing several TPS schools that remain in academic emergency.
“If I thought for a moment that Head Start was not doing the job, they would not have my child,”
said Sandra Owen, a former Head Start student whose own child is now enrolled in the same program. “My mother has a master’s degree in education and is a retired principal, so if I felt at any time my child is not learning what she needs to learn from her current daycare, she would not be there. I want to say firmly that they must be doing something right.”
The TPS superintendent met individually with each board member to explain his findings, but did not disclose what those findings were during the school board’s monthly meeting.
“We have done the work, we know we can do it, and we know we can run this more efficient and more effective,” said Sykes. “To continue to diddle-daddle here just creates a problem. If we’re going to support this superintendent, then we support his recommendation and put this grant together.”
“With everything that is going on and with as much fuss as this is creating, we need to decide if we’re going to move forward or not,” echoed TPS board member Bob Vásquez. “I think that clears the air.”
“I’m really upset there have been people in our community educated with mistruths,” said board president Lisa Sobecki. “Because I’ve never heard this district say we’re going to get rid of 300 people. But I have heard this district say about Head Start, that we’re going to enhance the program, with better pay opportunities and look at opportunities for people to come here.”
Despite approving the Head Start resolution, school board members did instruct Dr. Peck to meet with EOPA officials and other potential collaborators to see if they want to join with the district.
“We meet with EOPA, meet with the university, tell them we’re moving forward,” Sykes said. “If they’re on board, fine. If not…”
On the Internet: https://laprensatoledo.com/Stories/2012/012012/headstart.htm