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Head Start Program Can Reapply for Funds : Education: Efforts to turn around the financially troubled operator of children's classes are called sufficient.


SAN FERNANDO — The San Fernando-based agency that runs Head Start classes in the San Fernando and Santa Clarita valleys will be allowed to reapply for funding for the next fiscal year after county officials said they were satisfied with steps taken in the past few months by the Latin American Civic Assn. to reorganize.

"They have demonstrated to the county office that they made significant enough changes that they should be permitted to reapply for funding," said Steve Horowitz, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County Office of Education, which administers the federal program in the area. "We are in discussions with them this week to work out details of special conditions that we want."

"Of course, I'm elated," Irene Tovar, LACA's interim executive director, said of the county's decision. "But I'm too tired to show it."

Horowitz said he is uncertain when county officials will make a decision on LACA's application for funding for next year, except to say it will probably be before the end of the fiscal year, which is June 30.

County officials earlier this year and again in March had said they would not fund LACA next year because of mismanagement by the agency's former director, which resulted in a projected $850,000 budget deficit.

LACA had appealed the county's decision to the federal Office for the Administration of Children and Families, which oversees the Head Start program, but has now withdrawn it.

In the past few months, LACA has reorganized, longtime Executive Director Ralph Arriola has resigned, and a new board of directors has been named composed of many founding LACA board members. LACA officials, parents and union officials haggled for weeks over a plan to keep classrooms open for the remainder of the fiscal year, but two weeks ago reached agreement.

The plan calls for the layoff of 44 people, mostly administrators, and county officials agreed to fund other positions from its own budget and provide personnel to fill other slots.

The union, which represents about 200 of LACA's 260 employees, had opposed any plan that called for layoffs, but changed its position in an effort to save LACA, which was created nearly 30 years ago to improve the educational opportunities for Latinos in the San Fernando Valley.

LACA operates Head Start under contract to the county. Head Start provides meals, instruction and health services to nearly 1,350 mostly poor children in the two valleys.

All along, county officials had told LACA officials that they had to implement a plan to make up the budget deficit before it would reconsider funding the agency for the next fiscal year.

Tovar, who recently resigned as chairwoman of LACA's board of directors to become the agency's interim executive director, said she believes that the long and numerous meetings held almost daily will pay off.

"I'm a little tired, but I'm optimistic," said Tovar, who was a founding board member of LACA. She said she is taking the county's decision "as a signal that we will be around July 1."

"We wanted to show that we had the kids' interest at heart, first and foremost. The agency has been able to show that once we took out all the hurt feelings and misunderstandings, that our real commitment has been to the kids."

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