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Head Start Roiled Again by Plea for Racial Split of Funds

November 10, 1985|DARYL KELLEY | Times Staff Writer

LONG BEACH — Longstanding tensions between elements of the black and Latino communities have surfaced again with allegations by City Councilman James Wilson and others that the Latino-run Long Beach Head Start program has little black leadership and too few black students and employees.

In response, directors of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) Head Start Inc. maintain that Wilson has spread unfounded rumors while appealing to the federal government to split the $2.5-million, 880-student preschool program in two, with blacks and Latinos each receiving a portion of the funding.

The current dispute arises after more than a decade of turmoil over whether a black- or Latino-dominated agency should direct Long Beach's Head Start efforts.

It emerges as LULAC is attempting to rebuild its program and credibility after a sharply critical audit by federal authorities last spring. In effect, LULAC was given a year to do better or lose its grant.

"We've made a tremendous amount of gains since June," when the LULAC board of directors was restructured and its top administrators resigned, board president Jerome Torres said. "But now some elements of the black community have been purposely trying to sabotage our program and to discredit it, and to create conflict between the black and Latino communities."

Such conflict has been part of the Long Beach scene for years, said Roy Fleischer, program director of the federal agency that administers Head Start in the West.

"We have for so many years had so much difficulty bringing the Long Beach community together," Fleischer said. "With the dissension, it will be difficult to pull that program together."

Substantial progress has been made by LULAC in the last four months, Fleischer said, and its budget was renewed for 1985-86. "But I couldn't go so far as to say they have a clean bill of health . . . not yet," he said.

Torres, who was elevated to board president after the June shake-up, said his recent efforts to work cooperatively with the black community have been overshadowed by allegations from Wilson and others, including former Head Start employees Torres refused to name.

Wilson's allegations are based on inaccurate information that the councilman never attempted to verify, Torres said.

In a Sept. 4 letter to Fleischer, Wilson said that "only 30 black children are enrolled in the (LULAC) program and no attempt is being made to recruit black children."

The councilman, whose District 1 encompasses the central city area, also said in the letter that no LULAC administrators are black and that another Latino organization that ran Head Start locally until 1982 had lost the grant because of misappropriation of funds.

Wilson said he wants to split the Head Start grant between the black and Latino communities and would, if necessary, "solicit state and federal support to see that black children of Long Beach are adequately served by the Head Start program."

In a subsequent letter, Fleischer recommended that Wilson meet with LULAC and then air concerns in a public meeting. He also said the previous grant holder, the East Long Beach Neighborhood Center, Centro de la Raza, was never accused of misappropriation of funds.

LULAC officials responded to Wilson's other allegations in a letter to him and the rest of the City Council on Monday.

In general, the number of blacks in LULAC's Head Start program has been in proportion to their eligibility, LULAC acting director Richard Madrid said in an interview. In 1984-85 and this year, blacks have comprised at least 25% of the students in the Long Beach section of LULAC's program, which also includes Hawaiian Gardens, Madrid said. There were 245 black students in the program last year and there are 179 this year.

Blacks also represented 33% of the employees for the combined programs both years, and 38% of employees this year in the Long Beach program alone, he said. Twenty-nine percent of the administrative staff, including the agency assistant director, is black, and eight of 14 supervisors at the Long Beach schools are black, Eadrid said.

Blacks made up about 23% of Long Beach's residents with incomes below the poverty level in 1979, according to the 1980 census. Low income is a primary criterion for Head Start eligibility.

Latinos have made up between 35% and 40% of Head Start students in Long Beach the last two years, and have held between 36% and 39% of the jobs in the combined two-city program, Madrid said.

Latinos were 24% of the city's poverty population in 1979, according to the census. A recent Urban Institute study for the city estimated that Long Beach's Latino population had increased from about 50,600 in 1980 to 68,800 this year, with many of the new arrivals being poor.

"I told Mr. Wilson that we've taken a look at LULAC's records and they appear to be recruiting and enrolling consistent with Head Start performance standards. We have received documentation about every child enrolled (last year)," Fleischer said.

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