HAWAIIAN GARDENS — After months of construction delays, a $1.2-million city recreation center is finished and classrooms for the Head Start program have been ready for weeks. But teachers and students will have to wait to move in while city officials and Long Beach Head Start--which administers the program--settle a dispute over the lease.
The conflict centers on a proposal by Councilwoman Kathleen Navejas that she describes as a "simple trade-off."
"We want to separate ourselves from Long Beach and start our own program and they want our building," Navejas said. "If they assure us that we can have our own program, we'll sign the lease. That is the only way to make sure that the children in Hawaiian Gardens will get a quality program."
Although Hawaiian Gardens council members have expressed their support for a city-run program, Navejas' proposal has drawn criticism from Councilman Donald Schultze.
"I don't want the city to use this building as a bargaining chip against the Head Start program," Schultze said. "Let's just sign that agreement and get the kids into that building as soon as possible. We can fight our political battles later."
Schultze said he will recommend that the council sign a one-year lease for the building at Tuesday night's council meeting.
Earlier this month the City Council sent a letter to Head Start regional administrators in San Francisco and to local legislators asking for their support in implementing their own program.
But Carrie Bryant, Long Beach Head Start board chairwoman, said her board will decide if Hawaiian Gardens can start its own program.
"Although they will be a separate body with their own staff, they will have to get their funding from us," Bryant said. "And I can tell you, this is not a top priority. The only top priority is getting those kids into a new building, not playing politics at their expense."
Head Start is a federally funded preschool program for 3- to 5-year-old-children of low-income families. Long Beach Head Start, which has more than 800 students, is operating with a $2.6-million grant for the 1986-87 school year.
About 100 Hawaiian Gardens students attend Head Start classes at the Pentecostal Church of God on Norwalk Boulevard, according to Bryant, who said that because of the small size of the church some of the students must be taught at home by Head Start teachers.
"Once we get into that building we will have plenty of room for all the students," Bryant said. "That is why it's important we get this settled before the next school year."
City officials say that until Hawaiian Gardens has its own program the city will not get its fair share of services.
"It's no big secret that we have been ignored," Navejas said. "For the past three years, we have not had any representation on that board."
Navejas cited various internal problems in the Head Start program as another reason for starting a Hawaiian Gardens program right away.
"We don't have threats and vandalism going on at our site," Navejas said, refering to last month's shutdown of 11 preschools after Head Start officials in Long Beach received threats. "Why should we have to suffer because they don't know how to run their program?"
Bryant said that the Long Beach program has been running without a director for the past month, and that the board, which should have 15 members, has only four. Under orders from the Administration for Children, Youth and Families in San Francisco--a branch of the U.S. Office of Human Development Services, the board has until May 13 to reorganize, she said.