Luttrell Spells Out Possible County Head Start Exit

By Bill Dries

Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell made it formal Wednesday, Sept. 18, before Shelby County Commissioners.

He wants the county out of the Head Start business. And he as well as most of the commissioners he talked with during Wednesday committee sessions want Shelby County Schools to take it over.

“I’ve always been concerned about our inability to cover the number of children that really need Head Start,” Luttrell said. “We are now serving roughly 3,200 children with $23 million. We’re barely scratching the surface as far as the need in this area.”

So Luttrell has his staff preparing an application to renew the $23 million in federal funding the county gets. But he hasn’t decided yet if he will submit the application by the Oct. 22 deadline to get it to the federal department of Health and Human Services.

“I just think it can be done better and more efficiently outside of the realm of county government,” Luttrell said, adding county government took over the program because of problems the previous provider had. “It was never the intent that Head Start would be permanently in county government.”

Luttrell’s idea is for a new Head Start agency that can bring to the table private dollars to expand the services even further and he specifically mentioned Shelby County Schools as well as Porter-Leath.

Luttrell’s comments came the day after schools superintendent Dorsey Hopson said he and his staff are exploring making a bid for the program and would likely contract out to providers. Hopson said under that scenario, the school system would set rigorous performance and curriculum standards for the prekindergarten program that would align with the school system’s emphasis on all third graders reading at grade level.

In committee Wednesday, seven county commissioners vote for a recommendation that the full commission approve a resolution urging the school system to pursue the federal funding. The resolution sponsored by county commissioner Henri Brooks goes to the full commission for a vote at the body’s Monday, Sept. 23, meeting.