Questions still unanswered from Head Start
By: By JOHN BRANNON Messenger Staff Reporter
College tuition for welfare mothers: $18,000.
Parent training: $16,000.
Higher education courses for employees: $60,000.
Those items are just some of the many expenditures contained in a report by Pamela Castleman of McKenzie, administrator of the West Tennessee Head Start program based in McKenzie. She made the report Aug. 13 at a meeting of the Northwest Tennessee Economic Development Council (NWTEDC) board of directors.
The report covered the period July 1, 2006-June 30, 2007.
Obion County Mayor Benny McGuire and Weakley County Mayor Houston Patrick and seven other West Tennessee county mayors comprise an executive committee that has NWTEDC board membership. Lake County Mayor Macie Roberson is chairman of the executive committee.
NWTEDC is the parent agency of West Tennessee Head Start, which serves children of low-income families in 13 West Tennessee counties. The program is funded by a $10.2 million federal grant each year from the federal Department of Health and Human Services. The funds are routed through the state to the Head Start program.
Mrs. Castleman oversees an employee work force of about 320 assigned to Head Start offices throughout the district. Her immediate supervisor is John Bucy, executive director of NWTEDC.
On Aug. 16, The Messenger sent Bucy an e-mail asking:
• How much was spent total on all the projects mentioned in Mrs. Castleman’s report?
• By what authority are Head Start funds expended on college tuition for welfare mothers?
• How many mothers received tuition assistance?
Bucy replied by e-mail on Aug. 21. “Just got back into the office,” he said. “We have our regular annual audit going this week in addition to the regular hustle of schools opening so I’m not going to be able to ask folks to gather your information before next week.”
On Aug. 30, he sent another e-mail. “I’m out of the office most of the next 10 days or so,” he said. “When I get back we will sit down with the resource experts in Head Start to talk about some of the really good things that go on in the program.
“In the meantime, I have ask(ed) Pam (Castleman) to get you the information summary that you ask(ed) for.”
No answer from either Mrs. Castleman or Bucy has been received at The Messenger. Nor have they said why they will not provide the information.
The Messenger advised the HHS office in Washington about the situation and requested its assistance. The Washington office did not respond.
The Messenger’s position on the issue is that Head Start is funded by public tax monies and, therefore, the public and the watchdog media have a vested interest in Head Start activities, including the dispensing of public funds.
Here are other items of interest The Messenger would ask Tennessee and federal Head Start officials:
• Define the term, “parent training.”
• Are the capital improvement projects at the various Head Start offices throughout the district put out for competitive bids?
• Is the practice of paying college tuition for welfare mothers restricted only to West Tennessee Head Start or is it a statewide, even nationwide, practice?
• Tennessee has many small businesses that can’t afford to pay higher education costs for employees. But a federal agency, with a fat coffer of tax dollars, can afford it. But how can it be justified?
According to Ms. Castleman, in fiscal year 2006-07, West Tennessee Head Start:
• “Touched” the lives of 1,497 children and families.
• Performed 1,403 behavioral screenings resulting in 41 behavioral plans. (Medical providers and total cost not mentioned.)
• 1,389 dental exams were completed. 465 children required another exam. 380 children required at least one dental treatment. Many children received surgical treatments due to the amount of work they needed. (Providers and cost not mentioned.)
• 1,470 growth screenings were performed. 432 children were found to be either obese or malnourished or at risk of being obese or malnourished. 280 parents agreed to receive ongoing help from a certified dietitian to help plan meals, offer healthier snacks and learn ways to increase their child’s physical activity. (Providers and cost not mentioned.)
• 1,464 hearing screenings were performed with 24 children needing hearing related treatments. Approximately 99 percent of the 24 children needed surgical treatments. One child was fitted with a hearing aid. (Providers and cost not mentioned.)
• 11,462 children received a vision screening. 121 children were fitted with glasses. (Providers and cost not mentioned.)
• 1,335 children received speech and language screenings, resulting in 172 children being diagnosed with a speech or language disability. (Provider and cost not mentioned.)
• 201 infants, toddlers and pre-school age children were diagnosed with a disability.
• 1,282 families developed a Family Partnership Plan. Those plans identified 2,460 needs. 92 percent of those needs were addressed. (Not further explained.)
Facility or program improvements made with FY 2006-07 tax dollars in the Head Start program are listed below. It is an incomplete list.
• Lake County Head Start — Paved parking lot; landscaped the grounds; purchased and installed double ovens and double oven cabinet.
• Fayette County Head Start — New store front door; drop ceilings and lighting system installed; new office furniture in offices of two case managers; cabinets and countertop for work area installed in case manager’s office.
• Washington Douglass Head Start — New floor tile for two rooms; upgraded network, $10,000.
• Miles Head Start (Union City) — New carpet installed in four offices; new floor tile in training room; two new heating/air conditioning units purchased.
Published in The Messenger on 10.26.07