The Los Angeles County Office of Education, one of the largest recipients of Head Start grants in the nation, could lose $210 million in annual federal funding for its preschool programs after an audit found more than 40 management shortcomings, officials said Thursday.
The office and 28 of its 29 contract Head Start centers, which include nonprofit groups and school districts that provide free preschool to 25,000 low-income children, have minor to severe safety, administrative and fiscal problems, according to a 92-page federal audit released this week.
Among the problems cited were failure to arrange follow-up care for known medical problems and to involve parents, as well as inadequate fiscal oversight, the audit said.
The Office of Education was given 30 days to correct health and safety problems, 60 days to address administrative issues and 90 days to rectify its fiscal monitoring system.
"We gave a 30-day time limit specifically because of the health and safety of children," said Joan Ohl, a commissioner of the federal Administration on Children, Youth and Families.
"We have a lot of concerns in terms of the fact that" the county Office of Education "does not have the type of fiscal oversight that it should over its agencies."
The three-week audit was conducted in May by the Administration on Children, Youth and Families, which oversees Head Start and is part of the Department of Health and Human Services.
"We take this report seriously," County Supt. of Schools Darline P. Robles said Thursday. "There are areas of noncompliance that we believe we can fix immediately within the time frame.
"There are some systemic issues that will take longer," she said.
The audit is part of a broader effort by the Bush administration to ensure greater oversight of Head Start programs.
A bill before Congress, which would determine whether federal funding for the program would continue, stresses more accountability.
Robles said her office was aware of some of the problems before the audit and had begun to correct them. The office was last reviewed in April 2004. Key problems listed in that survey included poor fiscal oversight and under-enrollment.
"We weren't able to move as quickly as we would have liked," she said. "There was a breakdown in the system. My responsibility is to make sure that doesn't happen again."