ShareThis Page
Head Start cash in jeopardy for Pittsburgh Schools |

Head Start cash in jeopardy for Pittsburgh Schools

| Wednesday, May 16, 2012 9:19 p.m.

Pittsburgh Public Schools may have to compete for about $11 million in annual federal Head Start grants next year after a runaway child last year disqualified the district from getting an automatic renewal of its funding.

Under Department of Health and Human Services rules, any organization that wants to provide the federal preschool and early childhood development programs for poor children in Pittsburgh have until mid-August to apply, department officials announced on Wednesday.

Bidders can compete with the school district for the five-year grant money and the right to operate local Head Start programs, but Pittsburgh officials don’t think they’ll lose the funding to anyone else.

“We’re planning on operating under the assumption we’ll be receiving the same type of funding we are now,” said Sherry Hazuda, president of the school board.

Chief of Staff Lisa Fischetti said the district’s Early Childhood Education Program served 2,273 children in schools and affiliated child care centers in the city in 2011-12. The $10.67 million in Head Start grants funded about two-thirds of the program.

According to letters from Health and Human Services to the district, Pittsburgh schools must reapply because of an incident in March 2011, when a girl, 4, slipped out of the gymnasium at the McCleary Early Childhood Center in Upper Lawrenceville and walked home unsupervised.

Officials installed alarms on doors at the center and met with staff, parents and students to revisit their practices, but the damage was done: Federal rules state any Head Start provider that does not meet the program’s performance standards must reapply, and the self-reported incident was enough to get Pittsburgh Public Schools flagged for leaving a child alone or unsupervised.

It is unclear how much competition the district could face. The first round of funding opportunities that opened for bids on April 19 has yet to draw responses, said Yvette Sanchez Fuentes, director of Health and Human Services’ Office of Head Start.

“Anecdotally, we’ve heard that there’s a lot of interest out there,” she said. “Overall, the intent of the regulation … was to raise the quality of Head Start services, but it’s also to get our current providers to look at their design and the kind of services they provide and ultimately make sure we have the best possible programs.”

A spokeswoman for the Allegheny Intermediate Unit, which pulls in about $11 million federal money a year for Head Start and Early Head Start programs in the county, said it is not interested in expanding into the city.

The YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh might consider applying, President and CEO Rig Riggins said.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.