Head Start runs into obstacles Howard Head Start official finds effort to expand difficult.

February 18, 1991|By Norris P. West | Norris P. West,Evening Sun Staff

Dorothy Moore is frustrated because her efforts to expand Howard County's Head Start program, in her view, have run into bureaucratic snags that have pitted the poor against the arts at one of the four locations that house Head Start.

As head of the county's Community Action Council, Moore oversees a Head Start program at the Rockland Arts Center in Ellicott City that has become so crowded that two classes have had to split time in one room. The program is also scrambling for space to hold therapy and parenting sessions at Rockland.

"The children are being shortchanged," Moore said last week. "It's totally inadequate because we don't have any place for parents to come in for training and one-on-one meetings, or for speech training and mental health consultations. We've been doing a lot of that in the hall and that's totally inappropriate."

The space crunch was created when the Head Start program received federal authorization to expand from 160 children to 180 at its four locations -- two in Columbia, one in Marriottsville and one in Rockland. It added another class at Rockland, a former school building that is owned by the county, bringing the number of classes there to four.

But Head Start, which is designed to prepare poor children for school, has not gotten another classroom to accommodate the additional class at Rockland. Instead, two of the classes operate in shifts, spending only 12 hours there per week rather than the normal 20.

"It takes class time away from children and parents have to change their child-care arrangements," said Helen Spence, director of Head Start. "Some of the kids go home on the school bus late and don't get home until five o'clock."

Head Start officials also complain that at Rockland they are forced to use a storage room as an office and said they were ordered by the State Fire Marshal not to conduct therapy and parenting sessions in the hallway. They want the county to provide more classrooms at Rockland -- rooms that are occupied by artists.

"But there was a strong, strong resistance to our being there in the first place," said Moore, referring to the Arts Council. "People tend to be upset when programs to benefit the poor are located near them. It's comparable to the resistance you see from communities toward low-income housing."

There are no problems at the other three locations.

Cecil Bray, assistant county administrator, said it took a long series of negotiations before the Arts Council agreed to share Rockland.

Mary Toth, executive director of the Arts Council, said her organization was reluctant to provide space to Head Start in 1989 because it believed that having children in the building would jeopardize its insurance coverage. She dismissed Moore's contention that the arts and the poor are at odds.

"In a community like ours, it doesn't seem very productive to say you've got to choose between satisfying the needs of Head Start and satisfying the needs of the arts community," Toth said. "The issue is how the community is going to meet the needs of the two organizations.

Meanwhile, the Rockland building is the focus of another problem. County-owned facilities are permitted to have only non-profit tenants to keep their tax-exempt status, but Toth admits that the Arts Council is subleasing space to at least two artists engaged in profit-making ventures.

"There are a few [tenants] who are making a partial living from that. Others have developed into small businesses, but I would certainly think it's premature to think it's a problem," Toth said.

However, Charles Baker, supervisor of the local state assessment and taxation office, said he is considering putting the building back on the tax books unless the county acts immediately to remove profit-making tenants.

Rebecca W. Horvath, director of the county General Services Department, said Friday that the county leases most of the space at Rockland to the Arts Council at no cost and is making separate arrangements with Head Start.

Horvath said she realized the Arts Council subleases space to artists, musicians, dancers and photographers but that she was not aware that the building's tax status was in jeopardy. She said she would investigate the matter.

The developments come at a time when the General Assembly is considering the Arts Council's request for a $250,000 bond to renovate Rockland for its Howard County Center for the Arts. The bond, approved by the county's General Assembly delegation, would pay for air conditioning and physical improvements.

The bond proposal would not improve facilities used by Head Start.

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