Luttrell: Hand over Head Start reins to SCS - FOX13 News, WHBQ FOX 13

Luttrell: Hand over Head Start reins to SCS

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    Friday, October 4 2013 3:43 PM EDT2013-10-04 19:43:45 GMT
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SHELBY COUNTY, Tenn. (FOX13) -

Is it a case of political expediency or the best step to ensure a better future for thousands of pre-school children?

Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell said it's time for the county to hand over the reins of the Head Start program and is encouraging the Shelby County Schools system to take over.

There are plenty of songs written about couples "breaking up." Certainly the decade-old partnership between Shelby county government and the once troubled Head Start program proved to be a solid union that helped thousands of pre-school children and their financially strapped parents.

But now the county wants a divorce from the program, but not before they find someone else to pick up the slack.

We should all congratulate 18-month-old Randy. Either standing or on his daddy's shoulder, he managed to endure a more than a two-hour meeting without once moaning, whining or throwing a tantrum.

With that kind of calm demeanor he'll probably never run for the Shelby County Commission, yet it was the future health and educational needs of Randy and the thousands of other children, enrolled or soon to be enrolled in the federally-funded Head Start Program, that was the hot topic commissioners discussed in a committee meeting on Wednesday.

After a decade of assuming full responsibility for the program's operation Mayor Luttrell is suggesting it's time to go shopping for a new applicant to vie for leadership of the program.

"We are now serving 3,200 children with $23 million," the county mayor said. "We're barely scratching the surface as far as the need in this community in that area. I'm very committed to Head Start. I just think it can be done better, more efficiently, outside the realm of county government."

With an overflow audience composed of Head Start instructors, parents and Randy in attendance, an impassioned Commissioner Henri Brooks led a discussion on how effective the program, targeted at 3- to 5-year-olds, has been since the county was forced by mismanagement to seize control in 2003.

But, with applications for renewing the grant due by Oct. 22, Mayor Luttrell is hoping to lure another public organization to either partner with the county, or best case scenario take over fully. While the commission can't force that takeover Mayor Luttrell said there are potential candidates with the newly unified Shelby County Schools system heading the list, an idea that between the majority of the crowd and some commissioners began to sound like a remedy.

"We are requesting that Shelby County Schools be allowed to submit the grant because we have a long standing with Shelby County Schools," said Stephanie Love, Head Start parent. "They are educators and we know they will provide what is best for our children to ensure their education."

"If the school would take it, it would be the best chance to legitimize the process of which we are going through," said Commissioner Terry Roland.

"If you're going to recommend somebody it will be a person that's got the interest of the community at heart and poor kids, poor kids," added Commissioner Sidney Chism.

As for Randy, well, he should find nap time today pretty enjoyable.

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