The article in the Canyon and Columbine couriers on April 22 may have given the impression that Jefferson County’s social services fund would leave the Head Start program short $650,000 and in violation of federal law.
To clarify, the county’s Head Start program has never been in violation of federal law, and in fact our Head Start program in the last two years has striven to become totally transparent. The Head Start program recently received the results of its latest federal audit with only two findings where program performance did not meet the Head Start requirements — an empty coffee pot in a place where a child might be able to grab it; staff moved it the day — the moment — the auditors shared their observations. The other finding was that the staff who had not completed all of the required early-childhood courses needed to be monitored by a staff member who is fully accredited when in the classroom. This is being corrected, and we are proud the program will pass this latest audit with flying colors.
As the article said, staff in 2007 became aware of irregularities in the Head Start budgeting but not irregular enough to have been a concern identified in any previous audits, but that’s not the point. I moved the accounting responsibilities from one unit to our main accounting office. I immediately commenced regular briefings to our board regarding issues around budgeting for Head Start. I assigned our chief budget officer to comb through every transaction to ensure a transparent budgeting process. In addition, the county’s obligation to the Head Start program includes greater involvement from our Board of County Commissioners than many other county activities. One or more commissioners attended (and still attend) monthly meetings of the Head Start policy council. They hear from me and the director of the Head Start Program at least quarterly regarding both our successes and our challenges.
My goal is to ensure a healthy, long-lasting Head Start program. It currently serves more than 400 low-income families in a four-county area, providing high-quality early childhood services for the children and wrap-around supportive services for their families. I can see every day the positive impact this program has in our communities. I am proud that our employees are good stewards of taxpayer money and have the courage to point out difficult problems, and at the same time seek solutions that will benefit the families we serve, spending taxpayer dollars wisely.
I very much appreciate AJ Vicens and his thoughtful coverage of Jefferson County and its many human services programs.
Lynn Johnson is the director of the Jefferson County Human Services Department.