Concerns over federal funding, lead-based paint, and the Oak Ridge Preschool appear to be reaching a resolution. And that ought to be good news for parents and staff members who have been worried during the past year that the program could lose federal money and even have part of its program shut down.
There have been two separate concerns, one related to lead-based paint at the Oak Ridge Schools Preschool and the other related to the reported falsification of federal data.
Work to repair the lead-based paint could start June 29, Preschool Principal Charlsey Cofer said after a Monday night meeting of the Oak Ridge Board of Education.
And a one-year probationary period with an on-site monitor for the Head Start program ends the next day, on June 30. That monitor was put into place last year as part of a 10-point plan worked out by Anderson County and Oak Ridge schools in April 2014 after concerns were raised about the falsification of federal data at the Oak Ridge Preschool, specifically reports on the motor skills of children.
Oak Ridge Schools will now do its own monitoring, but Anderson County Schools, which supervises the local Head Start program, can come in at any time.
In February, the Oak Ridge City Council agreed to use $150,000 in red-light camera money to repair the lead-based paint on the Preschool, but the low bid came in significantly lower—$24,700. The work will provide what officials hope will be a temporary fix while they develop a plan to permanently repair, replace, or move the Preschool. A joint city-schools committee is laying the groundwork for a new preschool by the 2016-2017 school year.
An inspection last year by the health and safety manager of Anderson County Head Start found flaking lead-based paint on the exterior of the current Preschool, which was built as a temporary structure about 70 years ago during World War II. Officials said the building, which is owned by the city, needs to be renovated or vacated for the Head Start program to receive federal funding in the 2015-2016 school year. They are hopeful that their plan to fix the lead-based paint by early August will satisfy federal officials.
The concerns over the falsification of federal data had jeopardized about about $700,000 in funding for the Head Start program in Oak Ridge in the school year that just ended, the 2014-2015 school year.
In April 2014, the Anderson County Board of Education initially rejected Oak Ridge’s Head Start application over those concerns, but county school board members revoked that decision after the 10-point plan was developed that month. Former Oak Ridge Preschool Principal Melinda White also resigned that month, although officials declined to say whether her resignation was related to the motor skills data. Cofer is now the principal.
The 10-point plan that included the full-time on-site monitor was put into place for the 2014-2015 school year, and it allowed Oak Ridge to continue to receive funding for the city’s Head Start program through Anderson County.
The 10-point plan called for a two-year probationary period, with the on-site monitor during the first year, and a review by the Anderson County Board of Education at the end of the first year to determine if there needs to be an on-site monitor for the second year.
Cofer said an amended contract considered by the Oak Ridge school board on Monday continues the contract for a second year. She said the contract will end in June 2016 and then be year-to-year. That contract is between Anderson County Schools Head Start and Oak Ridge Schools Preschool/Head Start.
Cofer said she expected to send the amended contract to federal officials in Atlanta on Tuesday for their potential approval.
She is hopeful that the contract will ease the concerns of federal officials and assure them that “all is okay.”
“We’re on the turnaround,” Cofer said.
The Head Start program is a federal entitlement program for low-income children.
Last year, school officials said the $700,000 in Head Start funding for Oak Ridge covers about 118 students. The Preschool is used by about 200 students, including those in the Head Start program.
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