Education Office Investigates Head Start Funds : Inquiries: A child development center program faces allegations of misusing federal grant money.
A Los Angeles County Office of Education fiscal team will investigate allegations of improprieties in a Head Start program that serves 1,200 disadvantaged children in Los Angeles and the Antelope Valley.
The investigation comes at the same time that the executive director and the chairman of the board of directors at the agency, the Frederick Douglass Child Development Center, announced their resignations, expressing frustration over infighting at the agency and possible misuse of funds.
“We have to look into the allegations to determine what is going on,” Mary Lou Hamaker, senior project director of Head Start for the Office of Education, said Wednesday.
The Office of Education distributes federal funds to the center for Head Start instruction, meals and medical services for children at 33 locations in downtown Los Angeles, South-Central Los Angeles and the Antelope Valley. Hamaker said parents have complained about improprieties she would not discuss.
Hamaker wrote a letter to the center’s board of directors on Aug. 17, 1990, threatening to suspend or terminate the agency’s annual $3.5-million federal grant unless steps were taken to correct the problems. She demanded that the board develop a conflict-resolution plan, select a new executive director and stop interfering in the day-to-day operation of the Head Start program.
Hamaker said she has “some concern” that the problems have not been corrected but is not currently considering suspension of the grant.
After Hamaker’s letter last year, the board selected Ted Anderson as executive director. When Anderson resigned Tuesday, he disclosed that money the city of Lancaster gave to the program to serve children in that city may have been spent improperly, including payments made to board members to attend meetings. Anderson said any abuses occurred before he took office.
Beverly Russell, co-chairwoman of the agency’s board of directors, said the board would launch its own investigation of how the Lancaster money was spent.
In the wake of Anderson’s comments and parents’ complaints, the city of Lancaster announced Tuesday that it was looking into how more than $20,000 contributed to the agency since 1984 was spent.
Anderson also lashed out at what he said was interference by the board of directors in defiance of Hamaker’s previous order. “If they’re going to run it, they don’t need me,” Anderson said.
Also resigning is board Chairman Robert Smith, who was brought to the board by Anderson six months ago to help him correct problems he perceived at the agency. Smith said he doesn’t have the time to devote to an agency that he says has “substantial problems.”
In trying to improve the situation at the agency, Anderson said he tried to determine how the Lancaster money was being spent. But after he began inquiring, he said, several thousand dollars were apparently shifted back suddenly into the Lancaster account from an account drawn on by the board of directors.
The agency’s fiscal officer, Ludovico Ramillano, said this week that a mistake was made in crediting $4,412 to the board’s account that should have been placed in Lancaster’s fund. “It was an honest mistake on our part,” he said.
But Anderson said Ramillano told him several months ago that a portion of the Lancaster funds was used to pay stipends to board members rather than to serve the children. Membership on the board of directors is voluntary. Regulations forbid the use of federal grant money to pay stipends to attend meetings.
Jaffe Dickerson, an attorney for the board of directors, said the board was looking into the allegations. “In any sort of program there will always be problems. Now the board is focusing its attentions on dealing with the problems, just as they have in the past.”
Hamaker met with the board of directors in a closed meeting Wednesday night to discuss the problems but left without commenting.