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U.S. Agency Hands Head Start Provider a Victory

L.A. County has 15 days to justify canceling a $10-million contract with a group that offers free preschool.

June 30, 2005|Carla Rivera | Times Staff Writer

One of the San Fernando Valley's largest Head Start providers won a temporary victory Wednesday when the federal government ruled that county education officials erred in canceling its $10-million contract.

The case was sent back to the Los Angeles County Board of Education, which has 15 days to come up with more evidence supporting its action against the Latin American Civic Assn., a 42-year-old agency that provides free preschool for low-income children in the San Fernando and Santa Clarita valleys.

The board had canceled the association's contract after an audit in March found several deficiencies, including spending and personnel problems and poor service for children with disabilities. The association appealed the decision to the federal Administration for Children and Families, which oversees Head Start and is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

In Wednesday's ruling, federal officials said the association was not afforded due process and that the county's decision was "arbitrary, capricious and contrary to requirements." Specifically, there is no evidence the association was given enough time to correct problems found in a 2004 review. Nor is there evidence that it was given proper notification or assistance to fix new deficiencies found in the March audit, the Administration for Children and Families found.

"We're very elated," said association attorney Herman Sillas. "It means that families will continue to get services in the area, and more than 240 employees will continue to be employed doing what they've been doing so well. It verifies what LACA's been saying all along, that we didn't feel we had been given a fair opportunity in this process."

In a statement issued by the Los Angeles County Office of Education, Supt. Darline P. Robles said: "We strongly disagree with the ACF findings in this case. We believe we followed a correct and fair process in terminating LACA's contract."

Robles said the county is considering whether to respond to the federal agency. If the county Board of Education does not respond within 15 days, federal officials said they would consider funding the association directly.

Under contract with the county, the association operates 24 Head Start and Early Head Start centers. It was to cease operation today, but will continue to be funded pending a final resolution of the dispute. Seventy-seven children attending Head Start year-round will continue in their classrooms. Registration for fall for an additional 1,400 children will also continue, association officials said.

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