Friday, April 27, 2018

Crucial anti-poverty program hit with the loss of Head Start

Published: 7/24/14 @ 12:00

Three years after Ohio’s depart- ment of Education demanded reimbursement of hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Mahoning-Youngstown Community Action Partnership, the agency that has long served the county’s poorest residents is fighting for its very existence. That’s because MYCAP has been disqualified from receiving a federal food-service grant, resulting in the federal Head Start/Early Head Start program being withdrawn.

Eight employees already have been laid off, and there’s talk that additional reductions in the workforce are forthcoming.

Community Development Institute of Denver, Colo., has been appointed by the Federal Office of Head Start to take over as interim director of the program in Mahoning County.

MYCAP’s permanent disqualification from the Child and Adult Care Food Program means the agency is unable to feed participants in Head Start.

Why the disqualification?

According to the state education department, $793,113 was not spent by MYCAP according to the terms of the Summer Feeding and Child and Adult Feeding program.

However, a yearlong investigation by the state turned up no evidence of wrongdoing by MYCAP, and there were no findings of misappropriation of the money that originated from the U.S. Department of Education.

The state has acknowledged that bookkeeping glitches are the reason for its reimbursement claim, and MYCAP officials concede that a lack of adequate record-keeping by the previous management team led by former Director Richard Roller caused the state to seek the refund.

Nonetheless, the agency that has provided crucial help to the neediest segment of the population in Mahoning County now finds itself facing possible extinction.

Over the past three years, we have urged federal, state and local government officials to find a solution to MYCAP’s problem.

We have argued that past mismanagement and incompetence do not justify taking the kind of hard line adopted by the Ohio Department of Education.

To be sure, MYCAP bears responsibility for what went wrong, starting with Roller being appointed director.

In late 2009, when the state was conducting its investigation, the focus was on the misuse of funds, nepotism, conflict of interest and a number of other issues, including weatherization work done on Roller’s house. He, along with others on the management team, were fired.

Roller hired his brother, Jason, as food-service manager, and two of his cousins and his daughter were also on the payroll, as were other close family members.

How could a public entity funded by the taxpayers become an employment agency for members of one family? It’s a question that residents continue to ask. The board of directors of MYCAP is ultimately responsible for the operation of the community service agency, and it seems inconceivable that no one was aware of the nepotism.

That said, the agency was cleared of wrongdoing. But now, without Head Start, the future looks bleak.

No audit findings

Ironically, a recent audit by the Ohio Department of Development and the city of Youngstown contained no findings.

Ben McGee, chairman of the board of directors, insists that the agency isn’t going away quietly, and that loss of the Head Start program does not mean other programs will fall by the wayside.

But the loss of the agency’s signature program demands a formal explanation — in writing — from the state education department for its drastic action. Who made the ultimate decision to defund the federal food program, which resulted in the loss of the Head Start license? And, given that the improper expenditure of $793,113 from the federal government will not result in any criminal charges against anyone, why is MYCAP being punished when the current administration had nothing to do with past management problems?

The residents of Mahoning County have a right to some answers.

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