Plan approved to outsource County's Head Start

admin | 2/1/2012, 7:30 a.m.

Moss, Jordan stand opposed but not backed by fellow commissioners

In efforts to save money and remove themselves from the business of education, the Miami-Dade County commissioners voted last week to turn over the Head Start program for pre-K children to private, not-for-profit providers. This issue has been on the floor since July 2011 when the commissioners agreed with County Mayor Carlos Gimenez that it was in the Countys best interests to eliminate County-run facilities. With their recent decision to move forward, the County will continue to disburse federal funds to run Head Start but will outsource county-operated sites to selected agencies. The County spent an additional $3.7 million from its general fund to run the program last year and has long discussed using private agencies to run Head Start. However, as commissioners prepared to vote, some expressed their concerns that race rather than revenue was what the debate and subsequent decision was really all about. Supporters of the 8-2 decision say they will require agencies to hire Miami-Dades Head Start personnel, the majority being Black women who are the heads of their households. But those who opposed the plan question how that can and will be done. How the Black commissioners voted and why Commissioners Dennis C. Moss and Barbara Jordan voted no while Jean Monestime supported the plan. Audrey Edmonson was not present for the vote due to other county responsibilities. However, she did respond to our questions. We recently voted to save the jobs of over 500 county employees including police officers but that same emphasis saving jobs was not given in this vote, Moss said. Thats why I voted no. Unless there is some mandate that requires the service providers to hire [former] Head Start employees, they will inevitably lose their jobs. The non-profits and agencies will control who is hired and when you look around the Black community, there simply arent a lot of Black organizations left in the game who can even apply for the slots. We talked about mandates but none are in place. We are talking about Black women, many of whom have done a fine job for a number of years, that are now faced with either losing their jobs or being forced to accept much lower salaries and fewer benefits than they currently receive as county employees. Jordan describes herself as an outspoken advocate for Head Start and believes it should be modified, not dismantled and privatized. Nothing has changed since this issue was first raised, she said. We can only encourage private entities to hire personnel we cannot require or mandate their hiring practices. I have been fighting to save Head Start over the past four years because of how privatizing it could impact women and Black employees. Out of 333 employees, 288 are women and 85 percent are the heads of their households. Also, 256 of them are Black. While I am concerned about all of the people working in Miami-Dade County, I cannot ignore the disproportionate number of Black women that would be affected by this measure. My office has received a number of calls, personal contacts and e-mails from constituents encouraging me to continue to fight for the employees of Head Start. My comments during the discussion prior to the vote were not meant to offend anyone or to play the race card. They were said to help my colleagues understand the ramifications of this decision on one particular segment of the community. It boils down to a lack of sensitivity on the impact such actions have on a diverse community. Monestime says he voted against outsourcing Head Start in July 2011 and then asked for a transition plan that was sensitive to the needs of current county employees. He did not vote in similar fashion this time around. It has been made clear that the agencies will be closely monitored by me and and many other commissioners, he said. Any agency providing Head Start services should jump at the opportunity to recruit such talent and I suspect most of them will. Meanwhile, Edmonson, who was attending to duties because of her membership on the Countys canvassing board, said, One of my concerns has been and still is the countys Head Start employees being laid off due to the changes in the structure. Head Starts origins date back to 1965 During the summers of 1965 and 1966, two eight-week comprehensive child development programs, known as Head Start, were launched in the U.S. The goal was to help communities meet the needs of disadvantaged pre-school children. One of the programs tenets was that it should be culturally responsive to the communities served and that those communities would invest in its success. Since its inception, Head Start has served nearly 30 million children. Here in Miami-Dade County it has been lauded as one of the areas most significant and successful means of addressing the emotional, social, health, nutritional and psychological needs of children prior to their beginning kindergarten. By D. Kevin McNeir kmcneir@miamitimesonline.com