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NEW CASTLE Children's program seeking a new agency to take over



Published: Mon, September 3, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



The Lawrence County Head Start program serves 333 low-income children.

By LAURE CIOFFI

VINDICATOR NEW CASTLE BUREAU

NEW CASTLE, Pa. -- Children in the Lawrence County Head Start program go back to class this week with some fresh paint on the walls and some newly waxed floors.

However, the administration of the Head Start program is still in a state of transition as the federal government looks for a new agency to take it over.

David Lett, regional administrator for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families, said his department should start a looking sometime this fall for a new agency to oversee the program, which serves 333 children from low-income families.

Those eligible to take the program range from the United Way and local school districts to for-profit companies, he said. However, a for-profit company could not make a profit while running the Head Start program, he noted.

Money problems: The current board of directors is disbanding after discovering a shortfall in cash, despite receiving a $2.2 million federal grant.

Lou Abraham, president of the board, said the board learned in June there was not enough money to finish the fiscal year and decided to relinquish the program back to the federal government.

An audit is now being done to determine why the agency ran into money problems, he said.

Lett said they do not suspect any type of fraud or malfeasance.

When the money problems were discovered some employees were laid off in July, including some administrators and the director, said Betsy Spargo, education director who has been serving as the local person in charge of the program.

Most are expected to be called back this week, except for six jobs that were consolidated, she said.

School starting: Head Start's full-day, 11-month program starts Tuesday at its building on Long Avenue. The part-day program begins Sept. 17 in Ellwood City and Pulaski Township.

Spargo noted that teachers and some other staff are regularly laid off during the summer months and most of those people will return this month.

Until a new agency is appointed to run Head Start, the federal government has hired Community Development Institute, a Denver-based company, to oversee it.

CDI appointed Jeff Matt of Pittsburgh, a certified public accountant who was fiscal manager for Pittsburgh's North Side Head Start Program, to serve as interim director. He started work Wednesday.

Improvements: Matt said they expect to make some improvements to the Long Avenue building, including some upgrades to the HVAC system and new furniture.

"Our intent is not to come and make drastic changes, but to make sure the community is served and make changes where they are needed. Hopefully we will have a viable program to transition," said Jerome Lee, site manager for CDI.

CDI is not eligible to take over the program after their contract ends, Lett said.

Lett said they expect to have a local organization in place to take over Head Start sometime in the spring.

"We are committed to maintaining the absolute highest quality for Head Start services in Lawrence County, and we are not going to diminish that commitment by one penny," he said.




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