Choppee Head Start issue re-emerges two years after it was resolved

sjones@thesunnews.comFebruary 6, 2014 

The federal government announced Thursday that the Head Start program at the Waccamaw Equal Opportunity Council will have to compete for future funds over an issue at the Choppee Head Start Center, but the issue was resolved two years ago.

“There are no current issues,” agency executive director James Pasley said from a Head Start conference in Atlanta, where he was Thursday.

The Office of Head Start said Thursday that it had put the Waccamaw EOC on the list with 102 other Head Start programs nationwide that “had fiscal management issues preventing them from properly managing federal funds, or had deficiencies discovered in their on-site federal monitoring review.”

Pasley said the Waccamaw EOC has had three reviews since the Choppee issue was resolved and there have been no findings of problems in any of them.

Pasley said the law that resulted in the action was passed in 2007, but the regulations pertaining to it were not completed until 2011.

That was the year the federal government stopped work on the Choppee center and withdrew future funding because agency officials had contracted for construction to start before the agency had money to pay for it. The agency’s board chairman and vice chairman, who were implicated in the construction approval, were forced to step down and the agency resolved the problems.

Construction for the center resumed in 2012 and it opened for classes later that year.

But the regulations could be reviewed in any of 2011, which Pasley said spotlighted old issues at the EOC.

Pasley, who was hired to straighten out the mess, said the law gives the agency no formal avenue to appeal the recent action, but it is doing so anyway.

He said the agency has told the federal government that a bidding process for Head Start services in Horry, Georgetown and Williamsburg counties would add no value to the program because the issue that put the agency on the list of bidders has been resolved.

“We’ve voiced those concerns and whether or not they’re heard remains to be seen,” Pasley said.

“We’re committed to making sure our grantees maintain high-quality learning settings, promote healthy child development and deliver comprehensive family services,” Ann Lineham, acting director of the Office of Head Start, said in a news release.

The Head Start program is the largest of the Waccamaw EOC’s five federal programs.

The others are Community Services Block Grants, low-income home energy assistance, weatherization assistance and a summer food program. The agency also gets non-federal funds to supplement the energy assistance program.

The Waccamaw EOC had ongoing issues with the former chairman and vice chairman interfering in the agency’s day-to-day operations, which is forbidden by law.

Attempts to get them to stop were unsuccessful.

At one point, the state was ready to revoke the agency’s charter and give its services to other community action agencies to administer. The federal government threatened in June 2011 that the agency had 10 days to clean its slate or it would lose Head Start funding.

Pasley said the area Head Start program currently gets about $5.5 million in annual funding and serves almost 785 children in the three counties.

He said that unless the federal government reverses its decision about the agency’s Head Start program, any organization that thinks it can meet the requirements can bid for the funding. He said that process could start in several months.

“I think we’re in a bureaucratic maze and they don’t know how to address it,” Pasley said.

Contact STEVE JONES at 444-1765.

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