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Local Leaders Say They Are Too Split to Handle Job : Long Beach Head Start Loses Its U.S. Funding

September 10, 1987|DARYL KELLEY | Times Staff Writer

LONG BEACH — The directors and top officials of the fractious Long Beach Head Start are so divided they can no longer muster a quorum or approve a budget.

But they do agree on one thing: They should no longer run the $2.6-million program that until this fall served about 900 preschool children.

"The problem is that the people we're here to help are getting hurt the most. We're destroying the whole thing for the kids. My recommendation is to shut it down," said Salvador Rivera, a member of the board of directors.

Linda Hamilton-Goss, the executive director whose management Rivera criticizes, agreed that the division among leaders "has gone on far too long . . . . My greatest disappointment is that somehow the kids got lost."

Federal officials, who repeatedly extended a July 20 deadline for submission of a 1987-88 budget, have finally agreed with the program's leaders. They decided last Friday to withdraw funding for Long Beach Head Start and told officials not to start school on Sept. 22 as scheduled.

Roy Fleischer, director of 70 Head Start programs in the West, said a search is under way for a new agency to operate the program. Several have expressed interest, and fall classes could open as early as mid-October, he said.

There is no guarantee, however, that any of the nine current Head Start headquarters employees or about 115 others who worked at 11 sites during the school year will be hired by the new operator, Fleischer said.

Funding is being withdrawn because the Head Start board of directors and its parent advisory council, which has veto power, were unable to agree on a budget for the fiscal year beginning Nov. 1, Fleischer said.

He said federal Head Start administrators made the decision at the urging of the parent council, which he has found to be more cohesive than the splintered board of directors.

"The (parent) council in a number of recent episodes has acted most responsively and most responsibly. That's understandable. We're talking about their kids," Fleischer said.

For weeks, the board of directors has been unable to achieve a quorum to discuss a budget that the parent committee had approved, Fleischer said.

The decision to withdraw Long Beach funding was made reluctantly, he said, since the current four-year-old program has been able to overcome past problems.

History has shown that in Long Beach a change of administrative agencies is no cure-all. In nine years, the operator of the Head Start program in Long Beach has changed three times, he said.

"We've had more trouble maintaining a grantee in Long Beach than in any community in this western region. I don't know why," he said.

In the past, however, Fleischer has placed much of the blame on disputes about whether a black- or Latino-dominated agency should direct Head Start efforts. Part of the cause of friction still lies in black-Latino tensions, say some involved in the current dispute.

"I'm not saying it was intentional, but there are still some things that are (racially) lopsided. Too few blacks were elevated in this program," said Leon Alexander, a black who is a member of the parent committee.

Victoria Real, parent committee president, also said she sees racial overtones in current problems.

Real was one of two parents who in February claimed to have been threatened because they supported the appointment of more blacks, Indochinese and whites to the agency's Latino-dominated board.

Those alleged threats and incidents of vandalism against three Head Start officials who favored a broader ethnic mix on the board led to a one-week suspension of classes in March.

That suspension came as the board's Latino majority was deciding how to respond to a directive from the federal Administration for Children, Youth and Family, which runs Head Start, to add other racial groups to the board. Federal guidelines require that Head Start boards be representative of the entire community they serve.

Even after the board was reconstituted in June and Latino members reduced to seven of 13, problems persisted.

According to Hamilton-Goss, a big problem has been the continued influence of the local council of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), which ran the program from 1983 until late 1986 and whose appointees dominated the board until June.

Irma Archuleta, local LULAC president, was one of five people whose names were attached to an Aug. 25 letter sent to federal officials complaining of alleged mismanagement and improper use of funds by Head Start officials.

The letter alleged that the Administration for Children, Youth and Family officials were guilty of complicity since they were aware of the purported irregularities and did nothing about them.

Fleischer said that because his agency was a subject of the complaint, it has been forwarded to an auditing bureau in the federal Department of Health and Human Services.

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