Policy Council Addresses ‘Elephant in the Room’

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By Carolyn Roy

Shirley Layton said it best during a Head Start Policy Council meeting Tuesday evening at the Head Start Center when she talked about the “elephant in the room.” Layton is chairman of the Policy Council.

Layton’s remark was in reference to the Policy Council’s objection to Parish President Rick Nowlin appointing Office of Community Services Director Sharon Harris the interim Head Start director after he fired previous Head Start Director Dr. April Wade.

Layton said at the meeting that the Policy Council and Nowlin were at an impasse over whether the interim director has the necessary qualifications. According to Policy Council member Dr. Gloria Smith, the interim is required to be on-site eight hours a day for a 40-hour week. She said Harris has a full-time job as COA director.

Layton’s and Smith’s concerns center around their belief that State licensing could be in jeopardy if the interim does not have the required qualifications.

In a letter from the Policy Council board dated July 25 and signed by Layton, she requests that Wade return to her position effective immediately, a request that Nowlin denied. The letter states that the Policy Council contends that activities voted on from October 2016, to June 2017, including a letter recommending Wade’s firing, were null and void because certain council members were not properly seated.

Layton said she believed the impasse would require a mediator.

In other business, Smith disagreed with Parish Council Human Resources Director Kathy Cramer on timing for background checks for new employees. The Policy Council wants to hire a secretary and full-time maintenance person.

Smith contends that federal regulations state new employees should have checks before they are hired. She said no new employees should be allowed on the campus until they had passed the checks, for the safety of the children.

Cramer told the council that according to the Parish Council Employee Manual, hiring is based on a successful background check with approval of Head Start Licensing. New employees don’t undergo the checks until the Parish has made an offer and it is accepted. She said it was an offer of employment, pending successful testing and screening and no one would be allowed on the campus until those were recorded and on file in the licensing folder.

When Smith reiterated her opinion that Head Start rule 1703 required testing before hiring, Cramer said, “Point taken.”

Smith also disagreed with Cramer about interpretation of the Fair Labor Standards Act as it relates to overtime at the Head Start Center. She advocated that teachers who worked a 40-hour week should be entitled to overtime if they worked on Saturdays for events such as parent orientation. When Cramer said that teachers were exempt from that rule, Smith disagreed. Again, Cramer had no response.

Smith was then critical of bulk purchase of school supplies for Head Start. Previously purchased by the center, they are now ordered in bulk by Parish Council staff. She complained of staff changing orders and “buying us cheap pins.” She requested that the supplies be delivered to the Head Start Center.

Much of the meeting dealt with what the two board members see as conflicts between Head Start federal guidelines and Parish Council policies.

Layton concluded the meeting by saying that that the council had been misguided in the past but must steer back on the right track. “We’ll do it the way the federal government says and work to keep the doors open.” She asked for prayers.