The battle between the National Head Start Association and the official who heads the federal Head Start program deteriorated recently into a “they said, she said” skirmish.
On June 30, NHSA officials crowed over a supposed announcement by Head Start chief Windy M. Hill that she planned to resign from her post. They said Ms. Hill, who since April has been under fire for alleged mismanagement of a Texas Head Start program she ran before coming to Washington, told top government officials she’d be leaving in November.
The Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees Head Start, disagreed. “We have no idea what the NHSA is talking about,” HHS Assistant Secretary Wade F. Horn said in a statement, adding that Ms. Hill had not resigned and that he knew of no plans for her to do so.
Ms. Hill’s lawyer, Derek R. Van Gilder of Bastrop, Texas, said the new rumors and accusations were part of a “smear tactic” against Ms. Hill, who has targeted mismanagement at Head Start programs around the country.
But NHSA officials stuck to their guns. Sarah Greene, the association’s president, said that in a June meeting of top management of the federal Head Start program, Ms Hill made her resignation announcement. “This spread like wildfire,” Ms. Greene said. “It is common knowledge in the field now.”
Since April, the NHSA has leveled a series of accusations of mismanagement and ethical breaches against Ms. Hill—including improper bonus payments, nepotism, and efforts to cover up problems—dating to her tenure as head of Cen-Tex Family Services Inc., a Head Start agency based in Bastrop. Ms. Hill joined the federal Head Start office in January 2002.
The HHS inspector general’s office is conducting an investigation and an audit, but officials there won’t comment on the status of those probes.
At the same time NHSA officials announced Ms. Hill’s purported resignation, they made new charges of inappropriate conduct by her, including that just as she was leaving for Washington, Ms. Hill awarded a three-year contract to an accountant who had given Cen-Tex a clean audit for several years, though an outside audit later found problems. Also, they say Ms. Hill continued to run the Cen-Tex program and receive payments, even after starting her federal job.
Mr. Van Gilder said those accusations were just additional efforts to discredit Ms. Hill.
—Michelle R. Davis
A version of this article appeared in the July 14, 2004 edition of Education Week