BY DARRYL Q. TUCKER
Journal Managing Editor
It’s possible that the Economic Opportunity Planning Association could collaborate with another agency to retain the popular Head Start program.
Last week, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services rejected applications from the Planning Association and Toledo Public Schools to run the early childhood program in Lucas County.
The federal government then commissioned Denver, Colo.-based Community Development Institute to run Head Start on an interim basis beginning July 1.
The Planning Association, also known as EOPA, sought to keep the $13 million annual grant.
“We’re open to partnering with someone else,” said The Rev. Donald L. Perryman, president of the Planning Association’s board. “That seems to be what is necessary today with Human Services.”
This is likely an opportunity to build bridges with other organizations rather than barriers, he said. There are other organizations with unique skills and resources that the Planning Association could work with.
Dr. Romules L. Durant, Toledo Public Schools assistant superintendent for elementary education who will take over as interim superintendent by the summer, said the district is reviewing the government’s report and recommendations.
“There’s really not a whole lot to it,” said Durant, a former Planning Association board member. “It gave us a lot of highlights. We will make a decision as to what direction we are going. It’s so early in the game.”
If the Planning Association doesn’t collaborate with another agency, it will submit an “awesome application” to retain the grant, Perryman said.
The current Head Start grant runs out June 30.
In December 2011, the Planning Association learned it did not meet quality thresholds. For the first time in its 46-year history, it would have to compete to retain Head Start.
Federal officials said a new bid opportunity likely will occur near the end of spring.
It wants to see if other organizations are interested in running Head Start.
The Planning Association operates on a $19.5 million annual budget, with most of coming from Head Start funds. Its officials said this will financially strain the anti-poverty agency, but not close shop.
“We can’t speculate on job losses,” Perryman said. “We’re concerned about EOPA employees. We’re concerned about the people we serve, the vulnerable children and families.
“It’s a challenging situation. We have a commitment to the community to make it work for them.”
Perryman said he and other officials are analyzing the government’s response to the application rejection.
“Obviously, we can do better,” Perryman said. “And we will do better.”
Perryman said the federal government rejected the Planning Association’s application because it was weak on several points, including; that it serves 2,043 children but didn’t say how it would support them without the grant; didn’t indicate how it would facilitate a plan to engage grandparents or caregivers to educate the children; didn’t document success stories and allowed the research of others to define the agency; and the lack of a plan for professional development of staff.
“I’m not going to debate it,” Perryman said. “I think they were legitimate. We will use it as a framework going forward with the next application and internal improvement with the organization.”
The Planning Association is not looking “to be adversarial,” but looking to improve. Head Start works, he said.
Children are in a healthy and safe environment, teachers performing well on a national basis and children are learning and prepared for kindergarten, Perryman said.
“They are doing a good job,” he said.
History of the agency
The Planning Association’s mission is to develop and operate programs to advocate for low-income and moderate-income individuals and families and to assist them in achieving self-sufficiency.
It is the designated Community Action Agency for Lucas County. Founded in 1964, the Planning Association has addressed the broad objective of self-sufficiency for low to moderate income people; to create programs that empower, mentor, and provide supportive services. It has historically adopted programs in order to assist in achieving self-sufficiency. EOPA has always envisioned that economic emancipation is the greatest path to eradicate poverty.