Atlantic Human Resources, an Atlantic City-based nonprofit group, relinquished control Thursday of the 20 Head Start programs it oversees in South Jersey, according to a letter sent to the federal program by its president, Sonya G. Harris, and obtained by The Press of Atlantic City.
The move follows an investigation by regulators that found the preschools did not meet federal standards.
Kenneth Wolfe, a spokesman for the U.S. Administration for Children and Families, said Friday that funding for the local Head Start programs would end June 30. The Colorado-based Community Development Institute took over effective Friday and will serve as interim administrator for the local programs, he said.
In 2011, Atlantic Human Resources, or AHR, reported that it served more than 800 children through its Head Start program, which provides preschool education to low-income children. The future of the program and the children it serves after the June 30 deadline is uncertain.
Officials at the nonprofit group did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
Also unclear is whether AHR’s funding revocation is a direct result of the investigation. Other Head Start programs across the country have seen cuts because of federal budget sequestration.
Details about AHR’s removal from the Head Start program will not be released until July 1, Wolfe said.
However, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services documents obtained by The Press show that the investigation into the nonprofit organization was launched after whistle-blowers alleged misappropriation of funds, mismanagement of the program, improper use of facilities for non-Head Start programs and a lack of materials and supplies.
AHR receives federal and state funding to oversee a number of education, housing and senior programs. It was founded in 1964 and is on South New York Avenue in Atlantic City.
According to its 2011 IRS Form 990 tax return, the most recent available, AHR spent $13.6 million and took in $13 million, 99 percent of which came from contributions and grants. Executive Director Joseph E. Gaynor received $141,168 in compensation that year.
The amount AHR receives for its Head Start program was unavailable Saturday, but it spent $12.6 million for all of its programs in 2011.
Employees also say they did not receive their latest paychecks just days before the meeting Wednesday of AHR board members resulted in the relinquishing of the Head Start program.
A memo dated March 28 from Gaynor advised employees of a “temporary funding issue” that would delay payroll distribution. The memo was sent at the end of the school day to at least 200 employees in Atlantic and Cape May counties. Employees have been on spring break since then and had not received their pay as of Friday.
Jacqueline Wiggins, a Head Start director who oversees two locations in Pleasantville, and about a dozen others gathered Friday in one employee’s Atlantic City home to discuss not returning to work until they were paid.
Wiggins said that in the past three years, funding issues for programs she managed have come up frequently. She said Gaynor called her Friday, saying the Head Start employees would receive their paychecks Monday.
Maria Ward, a supervisor in Cape May, said basic supplies such as toilet paper and food products had not been delivered on time.
The Mayor James L. Usry Child Day Care center in Atlantic City has not had its trash picked up in more than a month, and mice have been seen running through the rooms during the day, such as during the children’s nap time, said Azar Yisrael, who works at the center.
Atlantic City Councilman Mo Delgado, a former AHR board member who left in 2011, said the Head Start program had helped thousands of families. He said he hoped the program survived for their sake.
“I’m adamant in my hope that a conclusion will come out that will not hurt these programs for the community,” he said. “I’m hoping this is just a hiccup.”
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