Commissioners eliminate funding for Head Start
Smith, Delauter advise parents to stay married, stay home to care for children
The Frederick Board of County Commissioners voted 4-1 Tuesday to pull $2.3 million from the Head Start program as of March 1.
During the meeting, two commissioners told upset parents in the audience that the best way to help their children is to stay married. They also advised Head Start mothers to stay home with their children, and not take jobs outside the home.
"Marriage is the best long-term way to help our children," said Commissioner C. Paul Smith (R), who praised his wife for staying home to raise their 12 children at what he said was a great sacrifice to their family.
Commissioner Kirby Delauter (R) agreed, saying his wife stayed home to raise their four children. "I have four kids that graduated from Frederick County schools," he said. "I agree with Commissioner Smith."
Commissioners' President Blaine R. Young (R) and commissioners Delauter, Smith and Billy Shreve (R) voted in favor of pulling the county's share of the funding to the federal Head Start program.
The program is designed to serve children ages 3 to 5 in families that fall below the federal poverty line: $22,050 for a family of four. The program serves nearly 280 students annually throughout the county and has existed for four decades.
Commissioners will take the county's share $2.3 million and put it toward a $12 million projected deficit for the county's projected $440 million fiscal 2012 budget.
It costs $4.4 million to run Head Start in Frederick. The county's portion is $2.3 million. The other $2.1 million comes from the federal government.
Commissioner David P. Gray (R) was the lone vote against pulling the funding, arguing his colleagues were making a rash decision.
County Manager Barry Stanton said otherwise.
"I want to assure the board this wasn't done in a vacuum," he said. "We did a lot of research on this. I've been on the Internet. I've been on the phone with the federal government."
Smith agreed. "It could have been worse if we would have dragged it out for a period of uncertainty," he said.
Gray attempted an unsuccessful motion to defer a decision to allow Head Start parents and commissioners to hear how the federal government contractor, Community Development Institute of Denver, will take over the interim management of Head Start on March 1.
That company will manage Head Start until a new entity takes over funding and management.
"I'm incredibly disappointed not to hear a second [on his motion]," Gray said. "...This has impacted so many people. I find it so hard to believe that nobody seconded the motion to hear from the people."
Shreve countered that the county has been in talks with Community Development Institute since January.
Mark Elliott, a program support specialist with Community Development Institute, attended a commissioners' meeting on Monday to reassure teachers that jobs will be available. Elliott said the company will host a job fair on Feb. 18 and 19 for Head Start employees only. But not everyone is guaranteed a job, because the institute only will be working with the federal portion of the funding for Head Start, or $2.1 million.
Head Start employees have been asked to come back to Winchester Hall on Thursday to hear from the county's Human Resource Department.
On Jan. 27, Young, Delauter, Shreve and Smith met in closed session and voted to unanimously relinquish funding to Head Start, Young said, and Gray was not at the meeting, because he was away on county government business.
Young defended the closed-session vote by saying it involved county personnel.
The next day, Young sent a letter to Linda Savage, acting regional program manager with the Office of Head Start in Philadelphia, informing her that the board made the "difficult" decision to pull the funding.
Young said in an interview Tuesday that he needed to send a letter informing Savage the county was pulling out of the program in order to have direct talks with the Community Development Institute.
"It was the only way to get [Community Development Institute] to respond," he said. "We had to send a letter saying we were going to relinquish it.' They needed to know we were serious."
Savage did not return phone calls before The Gazette's press time.
In a letter to commissioners, obtained by The Gazette, Savage thanks commissioners for providing the Head Start program for 39 years.
Young said although commissioners made their decision on Jan. 27, they wanted to vote again on Tuesday to reaffirm the decision in open session.
Head Start staff and teachers were even called to Winchester Hall, the seat of county government, on Monday and told that commissioners were planning to vote on the issue Tuesday.
County staff was on hand Monday, saying they already had mapped out plans for privatizing the program.
Stanton said several nonprofit agencies in the county have expressed interest in providing funding. Stanton declined to name the nonprofits.
Daria Steinhardt, president of the YMCA of Frederick County, said it might be possible for the agency to consider picking up Head Start, but also noted it is too early to say for sure.
"I think there are a lot of strong nonprofits in this community that may be interested," she said.
YMCA agencies around the nation, and in some Maryland counties, do run Head Start programs, which fit into their focus on early childhood programs, Steinhardt said.
"It would be interesting to see what happens when they finish that process," she said.
Meanwhile, as the county moves forward with plans to drop the program, Head Start teachers and parents are trying to absorb the news. The small handful that showed up Tuesday complained that the vote should have been conducted at night so parents and teachers could come.
"I think it is very unfair for you guys to hold a hearing at 8:30 in the morning," said Nancy Jacobo of Frederick, a Head Start parent, who cried through much of her testimony. "I think it's unfair for you guys to hold a hearing this early in the morning. It's ridiculous."
Jacobo took exception with comments from the board that it costs the county and the federal government a total of $16,000 to educate one student in Head Start, compared to $12,000 per student in Frederick County Public Schools. "You're putting a price on my child's education," she said.
Staff Writer Margarita Raycheva contributed to this story.