By William K. Alcorn
The Ohio Department of Education is proposing to disqualify the Mahoning-Youngstown Community Action Partnership and many of its past and present leaders from future participation in the federally funded Child and Adult Care Food Program because of past bookkeeping glitches.
The proposal, if approved, essentially would blackball the agency and its leaders by placing them on a National Disqualified List for up to seven years, said Robin Renee Walton, MYCAP executive director.
Walton said MYCAP will appeal ODE’s proposed actions by this Thursday’s deadline.
Disqualifying MYCAP would severely shrink MYCAP, the federally designated poverty-prevention agency for Mahoning County, and potentially dismantle the rest of the services it provides.
The reason, Walton said, is that the Child and Adult Care Food Program is the linchpin to the Head Start Preschool program, the single largest program administered by MYCAP, said Walton.
Providing nutritious food for participants is a requirement for Head Start. Without the meals and snacks, provided via a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant administered by ODE, there is no Head Start. Without Head Start MYCAP would lose about $7 million a year in grants to run the program and cover some overhead costs. The local anti-poverty agency’s annual budget is about $17 million, Walton said.
The state education department, in an email dated Oct. 1, referred to as a “first notification” of monies owed the state agency, contained an invoice demanding that MYCAP pay $793,113 by Nov. 1, or the amount would begin accruing interest.
Further, ODE proposes disqualifying MYCAP leaders from future CACFP participation, some of whom were not with the agency when the ODE audit was conducted in February 2012 for 2008 through 2010, the period when food-grant expenditures are in question.
Among those in ODE’s cross-hairs is Walton, who came on board in April 2012.
Walton, whose salary is $85,000 a year, replaced Marilyn McDaniel, interim CEO during the search for a permanent CEO and the transition from the interim management team brought here in November 2010. McDaniel is also proposed for disqualification.
Walton said she is “surprised and disappointed” by ODE’s proposed actions.
Earlier in the year, she believed the relationship between MYCAP and ODE had progressed from adversarial to cooperative and was optimistic the issue would be resolved to leave MYCAP intact.
The anti-poverty agency contends that no money is missing or was misspent and that the problem resulted from poor recordkeeping. Walton also said ODE does not say money is missing.
The issue remains, said David Waggoner, MYCAP chief financial officer, because MYCAP kept records for the food program in a manner used for its other grants, while ODE’s bookkeeping method is different.
“We have since adjusted,” Waggoner said.
But because the ODE grant did not cover the entire cost of the food program, and Head Start money was also used, and because MYCAP’s records did not indicate which money was used for what, ODE wants all the money back because from MYCAP’s records, ODE can’t tell specifically where the money went, Waggoner said.
The ODE determined in its 2010 Serious Deficiency Notice to MYCAP that the agency failed to properly operate the CACFP program; and reasoned that because the issue has not been resolved that the current leaders should also be placed on the disqualified list.
The ODE is saying that MYCAP “doesn’t get it, and that all these people should not work again. But ODE hasn’t looked at anything since February 2012 to see the changes we’ve made,” Walton said.
“We’re hopeful ODE is willing to work with MYCAP on anything it has questions about,” said Al Stabilito, director of outreach and communications for the agency.
Shrinking or dismantling MYCAP would cost jobs at the agency and would adversely affect the people in the community who depend on MYCAP for other services its provides, Stabilito said.
Should MYCAP lose the CACFP grant and thus Head Start, the Federal Office of Head Start would appoint the Community Development Institute Head Start as interim operator until a permanent replacement is found, Stabilito said.
MYCAP is the federally designated, countywide poverty-prevention agency. Its programs include Head Start, Center for Family Economic Success, home weatherization, emergency energy assistance, and nutrition, senior transportation and rural services, Computer Literacy Program, Financial Literacy Program, Home Energy Assistance Program, Home Weatherization Assistance Program. Minority Business Assistance Center, and Workforce Development Program.