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Published in Print: October 22, 2003, as Hefty Head Start Salaries Prompt Federal Inquiry

Hefty Head Start Salaries Prompt Federal Inquiry

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The revelation that some administrators in charge of local Head Start programs are making six-figure salaries is forcing the federal agency in charge of the preschool program to take a closer look at the pay and benefits of directors and their assistants.

The investigation was requested by two leading Republicans in the House after they read a newspaper story stating that Blanche A. Russ-Glover, the chief executive officer of Parent/Child Inc. in San Antonio, receives an annual salary of $205,640 and that other administrators working for her were making more than $100,000. Head Start teachers make an average of $20,700 a year

In an Oct. 2 letter to Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy G. Thompson, Reps. John A. Boehner of Ohio and Michael N. Castle of Delaware asked: "Is the San Antonio case atypical, or are there other cases around the country where Head Start funds are being abused?"

Mr. Boehner, who chairs the House Education and the Workforce Committee, and Mr. Castle, the chairman of its Subcommittee on Education Reform, have asked the secretary for the salaries of the 25 top-paid Head Start administrators and the amount of federal dollars that the top 25 grantees are spending on meetings and travel to conferences.

"While it is expected that a portion of Head Start funds support staff salaries and other administrative expenses, the majority of congressional appropriations are intended to finance the preparation of low-income children for school," the letter said.

Windy M. Hill, who leads the Head Start Bureau within HHS, said that even before the letter arrived, her office was looking into the compensation issue after seeing the Aug. 28 report in the San Antonio Express-News.

The department's review showed that Dwayne A. Crompton, the executive director of another Head Start grantee, KCMC Child Development Corp. in Kansas City, Mo., was paid $250,000 last year, and made more than $300,000 in 2001. The investigation also showed that the lease on Mr. Crompton's Mercedes-Benz was being partially paid with Head Start money.

Ms. Hill said her office has asked KCMC to return more than $800,000 in funds related to Mr. Crompton's salary "that should be disallowed."

Mack Alexander, a spokesman for KCMC, said that the grantee's board was focusing on producing the documents that HHS officials have requested, and that the board had decided not to comment on how much Mr. Crompton is paid.

Ms. Hill said last week that so far, KCMC is the only agency that has been asked to repay funds. But she added that the continuing investigation could lead to similar consequences at other local agencies.

"The upside is that as we know more, we will be more proactive in not letting agencies get to this point," Ms. Hill said in an interview. "Whatever comes along, it is ours to deal with, and we will in a way that I think people will find fair and appropriate."

Targeting Mismanagement

Salaries and benefits are approved by the boards of the local agencies that compete for Head Start grants from the federal government. But regional Head Start offices throughout the country are supposed to conduct periodic wage-comparability studies—something that they have not been doing with any regularity, Ms. Hill said.

A $200,000 annual salary might not be out of line for the head of a nonprofit agency with a multimillion-dollar budget, Ms. Hill said. But without those studies, it's difficult to tell, she added.

"We have the mandate and the regulation already," she said. "We just have to adhere to it."

But Michael McGrady, the deputy director of human resources for the National Head Start Association—an Alexandria, Va.-based advocacy group for the program's families and staff members—said that the Head Start grant is often just one of several programs that such executives are managing.

"These things need to be spelled out to the general public," he said.

KCMC, for example, is also a grantee for the federal Child and Adult Care Food Program, and it administers a Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation grant supporting a summer enrichment program for Kansas City children called Freedom Schools.

Still, in separate letters sent last week to both the NHSA and the Children's Defense Fund, an advocacy group based in Washington, Reps. Boehner and Castle asked both organizations to support their inquiry into salaries.

"Whether there are two cases of financial misuse or 200, they should be disclosed and addressed," they wrote. "I hope officials at the National Head Start Association and the Children's Defense Fund agree."

The scrutiny over salaries comes at a time when the almost 40-year-old Head Start program is up for Congressional reauthorization. The House has already approved a bill that aims to strengthen the academic focus of the program and would create a pilot project in which up to eight states would have control over Head Start funds. The Senate has yet to take any action on a Head Start bill.

The salary investigation by the Head Start Bureau is also the latest in a series of actions that the government has taken to ensure that Head Start agencies are handling more than $6 billion in federal funds appropriately.

Since the 1994 reauthorization of the program, federal officials have been more aggressive about pulling funds from grantees that were found to be mismanaging money or not providing adequate services to children.

"The process of monitoring," Ms. Hill said, "doesn't mean there isn't room for improvement."

Vol. 23, Issue 8, Pages 25,27

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