HEAD SLAP: County must pay the piper
by Jason Collins
Mar 13, 2014 | 703 views | 0 0 comments | 17 17 recommendations | email to a friend | print
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Anna Simo, who heads Bee Community Action Agency, says they are working to reduce the amount of money the county will lose because of issues at Head Start.
Jason Collins photo Anna Simo, who heads Bee Community Action Agency, says they are working to reduce the amount of money the county will lose because of issues at Head Start.
BEEVILLE – A recently released letter from the federal government shows that taxpayers will likely have to foot the bill for $371,000 because of overestimates for the fourth year in a row by officials at the local Head Start and Bee Community Action Agency.

That amount doesn’t include what could be coming this year if the numbers don’t improve.

The county could lose another $500,000 or so from this year that it paid to fund Head Start.

County Judge David Silva, however, did plead to higher political officials, hoping they could help get the $371,000 back to the county.

“I have not heard back from Congressman (Filemon) Vela or Sen. (John) Cornyn’s office to see if they could make headway to ameliorate that,” Silva said during Monday’s court meeting.

As of now, Head Start does not have county approval to seek funding for next school year, according to a vote by county leaders Monday morning.

Head Start, which is run through the BCAA, operates mostly through grants which are done by reimbursement. The county pays the local Head Start bills and then requests that the federal government reimburse them. If Head Start doesn’t hold up its end of the grant bargain, the government doesn’t reimburse the money spent.

That is what is happening now.

Commissioner Ken Haggard said to Anna Simo, who heads BCAA, “We are giving you a $3 million loan with the hopes we get $3 million back from the government. And from this right now, it is not happening.

“The county taxpayers are not going to get back their investment.

“Yes, we invest in child care and child development. But we are losing $371,000 a year currently and possibly $500,000 next year.

Commissioner Dennis DeWitt added, “If this continues, it would bankrupt the county budget.”

Simo admitted that this isn’t the first time Head Start has been in this predicament.

“This is our fifth year we have been struggling with our non-federal share,” she said.

The letter from the Administration of Children and Families, reads, “Our office received your letter, dated May 21, 2013, requesting a waiver of non-federal share matching funds for PY32 in the amount of $371,921. We have taken into consideration the basis for a waiver cited in your request, and we also noted your agency made an identical request for PY’s 29, 30 and 31.

“It is the opinion of this office that your waiver request does not meet the required criteria in the Head Start Act, Section 640(b)(1) regarding the lack of resources available in the community that may prevent the Head Start agency from providing all or a portion of the non-federal contribution that may be required under this subsection;

“Therefore, your request for waiver of non-federal share match for PY32 in the amount of $371,921 is disapproved.”

DeWitt said, “This last year was the year the music quit playing, and they said you cannot waive that amount.”

In discussion, the county leaders use the term non-federal share. This is not actually money when it comes to the grant.

Non-federal share is the dollar amount assigned to the volunteer work done by the community and parents with Head Start.

If the program doesn’t solicit enough volunteer hours, then the county has to repay the remaining amount in actual dollars.

Commissioner Carlos Salazar said that a lack of parent involvement is nothing new.

“In the previous years we have been blessed. They have honored our waivers in the past.

“Last year was the first time they said, ‘No mas.’ They are not going to waive it any more.

“We have to play the ‘what if game.’

“History is already showing we are not meeting the parent involvement, and we are going to be stuck with another $371,000.”

That would be the conservative number though.

The amount proposed next year to fund the Head Start budget, which the court offered not to take, was actually higher.

Simo said, “Unfortunately, with more federal money comes more non-federal share.”

Silva said, “Right now, we are on the hook for $371,000 and the possibility of more to come, which would kick it right close to a million dollars.”

So, for last year, the county will have to pay back $371,000 and possibly around $500,000 or so for this coming year depending upon what transpires in the next few months.

It wasn’t the intention of anyone on the court to tear down Head Start when the county officials didn’t approve seeking the higher federal grant for next year.

“I don’t want this to go away,” Salazar said.

“I do not want to leave Head Start out in the cold,” Haggard added.

Essentially, that is what has transpired. Because a majority of the court—Commissioner Eloy Rodriguez was absent, and Salazar abstained, saying he wanted more information—declined to pursue the funding.

The concern was the increased amount of funding when Head Start is having issues with the funding they are receiving now.

“If the increases are not approved, it could revert to the lesser amount,” Simo said.

Salazar, however, said even that was a concern.

“I don’t want that amount. I want an even lesser amount because what is happening is we aren’t meeting the matching funds now,” Salazar said.

Step back couple of meetings, and it was Simo who approached the court telling them that Head Start would need to reduce its projected enrollment for this year.

The caveat: the BCAA officials hoped the federal government would allow them to keep the money they were allotted based upon that initial higher enrollment.

Simo said, “We had initially started out with a reduction of 60 or 61 (students). Since we have submitted our request and at the request of the regional office specialist, we have had several rewrites and several considerations, and now the number we are requesting is 42.”

DeWitt said, “In here it says you want to retain $284,625.”

Simo said that at least a portion of that was to increase teacher salaries.

However, it was noted that part of the reason BCAA will have to compete with other agencies this coming year to run Head Start was because of a lack of teacher interaction.

According to the letter received in February of this year by BCAA, “The average scores from these observations in the domain of class organization was among the lowest 10 percent of all grantees assessed across the county, meaning that 90 percent of Head Start programs had higher scores on the domain that assess the extent to which classroom processes are organized and managed to maximize children’s engagement and learning.”

Simo said, “The intent of the increase in the teacher salaries stems from trying to meet the requirements to get teachers that have bachelor degrees or higher.

“In order to attract those teachers, we are going to have to have an attractive salary.”

Now comes the other problem that the court members noted.

The request was already sent to the Head Start regional office.

Simo said, “The court initially approved an enrollment reduction request.”

DeWitt interjected, “But we have not seen this document.”

Haggard said that no matter what the court voted, the funding reduction was already sent to the regional office.

“So, it doesn’t matter if we tell her no or not,” he said.

And what happens if the government denies the request to keep the $284,625?

“I think the short answer is ‘yes, we will be on the hook for it,’” Silva said.

Jason Collins is the editor at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 121, or at
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