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Community Action relinquishes Head Start grant; 35 employees affected

The Otter Tail-Wadena Community Action Council in New York Mills relinquished its Head Start grant, effective Aug. 15, at a special board meeting on July 30.

All 35 employees at the local Head Start offices will be terminated.

The Community Development Institute (CDI) Head Start, a federal agency out of Denver, Col., will take over on Aug. 16, and at that time employees will have the chance to reapply for local positions.

The CDI does not guarantee jobs for all laid off employees, though most of the day-to-day jobs are expected to be filled by local people.

The 184 area families enrolled in the regular Head Start program, and the 34 families enrolled in Early Head Start, should see very little change. The grant is still available for the communities; it is simply being managed by a different agency.

Head Start classrooms will continue to be operated out of Perham and Wadena as of now. NY Mills has not had a Head Start classroom for five years.

In a phone interview with Otter Tail-Wadena Community Action Council's Executive Director, Davis Leino-Mills, he said, "There is nothing wrong with the Head Start program; it is fully funded."

Although the grant pays for costs of the actual program, it does not cover all the management costs, Leino-Mills said. Thus, the board decided that the Otter Tail-Wadena Community Action, which is in the midst of dissolving, is no longer able to effectively run Head Start.

The federal agency out of Colorado will be taking over administrative duties for the program for the 2012-13 school year. Agency officials will be in NY Mills this week to assess and evaluate the situation. Besides the initial assessment, most of the management work will be done out of the agency's main office in Denver.

At press time, Leino-Mills was unsure whether the CDI would continue to operate the local Head Start offices out of the current building in NY Mills.

With the newest changes, "Our agency will continue to look into dissolving sooner than expected. Probably by first of the year instead of next June," Leino-Mills said.

Back in November, the board of directors of the Otter Tail-Wadena Community Action made the decision to dissolve the cooperation because of funding issues. Since then most of the program has been transferred to Mahube-Otwa Community Action.

At that time, the regional Head Start office in Chicago asked the Otter Tail-Wadena agency if it would manage the Head Start program through March 2013 since the funding could not be transferred to another agency. Otter Tail-Wadena agreed to this arrangement, but has since reevaluated its financial outlook and does not feel it can move forward as such.

The costs involved with shutting down Otter Tail-Wadena are larger than was originally thought, said Leino-Mills. With a limited budget and limited hours, Otter Tail-Wadena needs to complete the process of dismantling a business - including conducting a full audit and liquefying all assets.

Of the 70 employees that were laid off during the initial switch, about six were not hired back, Leino-Mills said. After the Head Start employees leave, Otter-Tail Wadena will be down to three full time employees and one part time employee.