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Published in Print: June 9, 2004, as New Allegations Leveled Against Head Start Official

New Allegations Leveled Against Head Start Official

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The National Head Start Association has renewed its call for the resignation of the leader of the federal Head Start program, with fresh accusations that she tried to cover up financial mismanagement that took place during her tenure as a local program director in Texas.

Calls for the ouster of Windy M. Hill, who leads the Head Start bureau in the Department of Health and Human Services, began in April. National Head Start Association officials said then that they had uncovered documents showing that Ms. Hill had improperly accepted bonus money, was wrongly paid for vacation time, and violated federal grant requirements while leading Cen-Tex Family Services Inc., a Head Start agency based in Bastrop, Texas. ("Head Start Director Criticized on Past Tenure," April 21, 2004.)

On May 27, association officials said they had discovered additional information about alleged transgressions by Ms. Hill while in Texas and after she went to Washington. Sarah Greene, the president of the NHSA, charged that Ms. Hill had behaved unethically by trying to oust the Cen-Tex board from afar as an investigation into her conduct was taking place, and by trying to replace the members with ones who were unlikely to press for an investigation of her actions, including her sister.

"The fact that Windy Hill attempted to use her office in Washington to orchestrate a cover-up to kill the investigation of her misdeeds in Texas is all that should be required to trigger her resignation, whether on a voluntary or a forced basis," Ms. Greene said.

A transcript from a judicial hearing in a lawsuit over the leadership of Cen-Tex, provided by the NHSA, shows that a lawyer representing members who tried to take over the board said Ms. Hill directed them to do so even after she had left Texas to take her position in Washington in 2002.

Steve Barbour, a spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services, would not comment last week on the allegations.

Charges Called ‘Ridiculous’

Derek Van Gilder, Ms. Hill’s lawyer in Bastrop, said that the terms of several members of the Cen-Tex board had expired, and that Ms. Hill had urged the board to correct the problem even before she left for Washington.

Mr. Van Gilder said Ms. Hill has requested an expedited investigation of all the allegations. The Health and Human Services Department’s office of inspector general is looking into the matter.

"Based on the documentation I’ve seen, I think the allegations are ridiculous at best," Mr. Van Gilder said. "I think this is all about … some people being concerned about their livelihood and the overall future of their organization."

Ms. Hill has highlighted waste and mismanagement at Head Start programs across the country, Mr. Van Gilder said.

To Ron Herndon, the NHSA’s board chairman, Ms. Hill’s criticisms are hypocritical.

"How is it that she has remained in office? She violated so many rules that the average Head Start director would have been fired for," Mr. Herndon asserted.

Through Cen-Tex, Ms. Hill also hired family members to provide car-washing and landscaping services for the company while in Texas, Mr. Herndon said. Head Start provisions prohibit nepotism in program operations, he said.

Mr. Van Gilder said he was not familiar with those allegations and could not comment.

The NHSA, an Alexandria, Va.-based organization that represents Head Start staff members and parents, and the Bush administration have had a rocky relationship as Head Start legislation has moved through the reauthorization process and the Health and Human Services Department has moved to implement changes in the federal program. ("Head Start Imbroglio a Struggle for Hearts, Minds, Votes," June 18, 2003.)

Vol. 23, Issue 39, Page 30

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