BEEVILLE – By Friday afternoon, county leaders are expected to approve formally relinquishing control of Head Start because of the struggle to deal with budgetary issues that have been plaguing it the past few years.
However, the federal government, or some other designated agency, is expected to take over the program and continue it until a replacement oversight agency is found.
This won’t be immediate as the county will set a date in the future, presumably before the next budget year, to relinquish control.
This discussion and new vote is expected to occur during a special meeting at 4 p.m. Friday.
Currently, Head Start is part of the Bee Community Action Agency which is governed by the commissioners court.
This discussion has been ongoing now for weeks—most recently on Monday when they met to again talk of the possibility of not receiving $371,921 in reimbursement for last year from the federal government.
At the end of this year, that number will likely grow and could surpass the million dollar mark.
Congressman Filemon Vela has supported the county’s effort to retain what is called its non-federal share, or in kind match, of the money.
Vela, in his letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Department, writes, “Bee County is a poor, rural county in South Texas evidenced by the fact that the median household income is $40,707. Head Start is important to South Texas students and is an initiative I strongly support.”
Non-federal share is the dollar amount assigned to the volunteer work done by the community and parents with Head Start.
The problem is that the federal grant requires the community to help with the program and volunteer at Head Start.
This isn’t happening at the rate it needs to though.
Commissioner Ken Haggard, directing his comments to those from BCAA, said, “They have a total of 1,620 volunteers.
“If you take the amount of hours by the amount of volunteers, your volunteers are only putting in four hours a month.
“That is where the problem is.
“To me, it doesn’t sound like it is our fault or (BCAA’s) fault.
“It is the people requesting the Head Start that need to come to the plate.”
It was Commissioner Dennis DeWitt who made the proposal, through a motion during Monday’s meeting, that the county transfer ownership of Head Start to another agency.
Commissioner Carlos Salazar reminded that, no matter how they vote, “Head Start will not disappear.”
Anna Simo, who heads BCAA, said, “If it is not BCAA or Bee County that is the funding agency, then somebody else would be the funding agency.”
She added that the final decision would be up to the Office of Head Start.
County Judge David Silva said, “I don’t want to get too far ahead. We don’t know what Congressman Vela is going to do, or Sen. Cornyn’s office.
“I would like to see what happens with that first. I don’t want Head Start to go away.
“I understand another entity comes in. If the congressman or senator can do something about the non-federal share, let’s see what is going to happen.”
Commissioner Eloy Rodriguez said, “I agree with the judge. We need to take a step back and see what develops with Congressman Vela.”
Salazar reminded that this problem is a perpetual one, and the actions of Vela are only a temporary fix to an ongoing problem.
“I know for a fact for the last four years we have not met our in-kind match,” Salazar said. “I strongly believe we are not going to meet it in the next two, three or four years coming.
“We are going to be on the hook asking for a waiver and being at the mercy of it being given to us.
“We are not in the education business. We are in the county business.”
DeWitt reminded, “The tragedy here is the children.
“They have lost several years of quality classroom instruction, as is evident by recent classroom audit ranking placing the Head Start program in the bottom 10 percent nationwide.
“We are already in the hole over $500,000 this year. The potential is $800,000 next year.
“When you add in other things, that is a little over $1.6 million that we are not being reimbursed and Bee County taxpayers are on the hook for.”
When the votes were cast, DeWitt and Haggard wanted to have the county relinquish Head Start to another agency while Silva and Rodriguez voted against it.
The deciding vote would be up to Salazar.
“If I were to abstain, it doesn’t pass, and we can discuss it further,” he said.
“I want to be a 100 percent certain this program doesn’t go away.”
Normally, that would be the end of it—at least for this meeting. But this topic is complex.
Later in the meeting, Salazar had a change of heart and hoped he could change his abstaining vote.
“Unfortunately, we cannot go back,” he said.
On Friday, the issue would be discussed again, and his vote would change, he said.
“My vote is going to go in favor next time we vote.”
Jason Collins is the editor at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 121, or at editor@mySouTex.com.