Newark Preschool Council drops lawsuit, transitions services

By Naomi Nix | The Star-Ledger
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on August 27, 2014

A Newark Preschool Council Head Start Center. The council has recently transferred its operations to the Community Development Institute


NEWARK — The Newark Preschool Council has dropped a lawsuit against the federal government after it was denied funding to continue its Head Start program.

The Administration for Children and Families, a division of the U.S. Department of Heath and Human Services, ordered the council, a network of 35 preschools, to transfer its HeadStart programs to a government-sanctioned operator.

Executive Director Karen Highsmith said the council dropped the lawsuit to better position the organization to reapply for Head Start funding in the future.

"It was in our best interest to do that so that we could reapply if we wanted to," she said.

A spokesperson from the Administration for Children and Families was not immediately available for comment.

The lawsuit, filed in June in federal court, alleged the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services failed to properly evaluate its application for funding after June 30, 2014.

The council, which was awarded its first Head Start grant in 1965, was automatically renewed for a grant every year between 1982 and 2014, according to Highsmith. Most recently, the council served about 2,500 students.

But after receiving a deficiency notice from the department in 2012, the council was forced to compete again for a five-year grant to fund its operations beyond June 2014.

The Administration for Children and Families told the council in 2013 that it had adequately corrected the deficiency, according to the lawsuit. But when the council submitted its application to finance its Head Start program beyond June 2014, the Administration for Children and Families denied the request.

In May, the council warned that layoffs could affect the 504-member workforce.

The Newark Preschool Council has transferred operations of its Head Start programs over to the Community Development Institute.

The Community Development Institute runs Head Start programs on an interim basis, while the department looks for someone to operate the program on a permanent basis.

Since then, the Community Development Institute has taken over about two dozen of the council's 37 centers. Some of the former staff members are staying on with Community Development Institute, Highsmith said.

The council may reapply for Head Start funding in the future. But in the meantime, the council is hoping to get funds from the Administration for Children and Families to help with the transition costs, including conducing its financial audit and paying out employee vacation time.

"Our focus is really to do what we have to do to close out correctly," she said. "We don't want any blemish on our name as it relates to close out."

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