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VOL. 128 | NO. 185 | Monday, September 23, 2013

County Commission to Vote on Head Start Push to Schools

By Bill Dries

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Shelby County Commissioners consider a resolution Monday, Sept. 23, that encourages the countywide school system to apply to take over the $23 million federal government grant county government now gets to operate a Head Start program.

The resolution, proposed by Commissioner Henri Brooks, had seven votes in committee sessions last week.

LUTTRELL

Brooks, who has been suggesting such a shift to the school system, made the formal motion as Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell confirmed his administration wants to end its role in Head Start after 10 years managing it.

The commission meets at 1:30 p.m. at the Vasco Smith County Administration Building, 160 N. Main St.

“We’re still very limited as to our scope,” Luttrell said last week. “I am interested in finding someone who can enhance and expand this program to meet the needs.”

If Luttrell doesn’t see a proposal that would try to grow Head Start and bring in other funding for such an expansion, he said his administration is likely to file with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to continue the flow of federal money to county government to run Head Start.

“I would hope this school system, through the leverage they have, that they would certainly tie into the pre-kindergarten program as well as early childhood and elementary education programs,” Luttrell added. “We’re not nimble. Things don’t move fast in government by design. When you are talking about Head Start … you need to consider that.”

Schools superintendent Dorsey Hopson told the school board the day before that he was interested in exploring just what Luttrell suggested.

And school board member David Reaves went further and suggested the school board ask the commission to pass a referendum ordinance on a half-cent countywide sales tax hike to add additional funding to such an effort. Such an ordinance would pre-empt for a second time a planned citywide referendum on a sales tax hike.

The new city effort is slated for the November ballot, with $30 million of the estimated $47 million in revenue to be used to fund a pre-kindergarten expansion in Memphis only, administered by the city of Memphis through a trust fund governed by an appointed board.

County Commissioners did not discuss Reaves’ idea at the committee session.

The seven commissioners in committee last week agreed on the idea of the school system taking over Head Start. But beyond that they had different opinions about other options including alternatives, such as Porter-Leath getting the contract.

Luttrell said he is open to a Porter-Leath plan or another private provider.

“I certainly think the school system is very qualified to do this, and Porter-Leath has a very convincing package to sell,” he said.

Brooks disagreed about private involvement.

“I will continue to believe that the public school system or a community education organization that has a track record, if the two would work together – it has the accountability, the transparency,” she said. “It has all of the ingredients more so than a private organization, which is profit-driven.”

Other commissioners expressed concern about what would happen to existing employees in Head Start.

Luttrell said the short timeframe for an application and the transition to new leadership would probably mean few, if any, of those employees would lose their jobs, and more jobs could be created.

Commissioners also vote Monday on the first of three readings of an ordinance by Chairman James Harvey that would register used-tire vendors and those who transport used tires in the unincorporated county.

The item faces an uphill battle because the county outside the seven cities does not have any businesses that do either of those things.

The commission also votes on an $18.2 million annual contract with Correct Care Solutions LLC to provide medical services to prisoners at the Shelby County Jail and inmates at the Shelby County Corrections Center. The contract with Correct Care includes four renewal options of one-year each.

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