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Delays resolved, Norwalk Head Start set to reopen Wednesday

NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalk’s Head Start children are going back to school, Norwalk politicians said Tuesday, alluding to the amount of time and effort it took to work out the differences between what the federal government would allow and local needs and concerns.

“Head Start will be opening on Thursday for sure, but we’re hoping for Wednesday,” state Sen. Bob Duff (D-Norwalk) said, standing in Nathaniel Ely School with other local leaders for a press conference, almost six weeks since the federal government shut down the program run by Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now (NEON) and brought in a Colorado agency to take over the care and education of NEON’s 275 children.

The Administration for Children and Families announced prior to the press conference that Head Start would be open Wednesday for families who are previously enrolled. The recorded phone message from Community Development Institute (CDI) at 855-294-5718, updated Tuesday morning, also announces the Wednesday morning opening.

Duff, Mayor Harry Rilling, state Rep. Chris Perrone (D-137), state Rep. Bruce Morris (D-140), the Rev. Tommie Jackson and a representative for U. S. Rep. Jim Himes (D-Greenwich) referring to an hour and half-long phone conference that began at 9 p.m. the day before Thanksgiving.

“This is not something that happened overnight,” Rilling said. “This took many, many conference calls, many discussions, many ideas tossed back and forth and finally, finally, they sat up and they listened to government officials saying you need to get this moving. It shows what can happen when people band together for a common cause.”

Himes was credited for facilitating overcoming the differences.

“One of the problems that was associated (with the delay) was not related to anyone in Connecticut at all,” said Jackson, NEON interim CEO and president. “It was related to CDI and HHS (Health and Human Services), who noted that they were waiting for one another to get together and do things. We were able to open up two weeks ago the child readiness program that is operated through the city of Norwalk and the school system there.”

NEON was originally blamed for holding up Head Start’s reopening because of issues related to allowing CDI to share space in Norwalk-owned buildings rented by NEON. The licensing issues were worked out about two weeks ago.

Jackson said Tuesday that the issues were related to the $2.6 million in funding that NEON had been denied from Norwalk under the Moccia administration. NEON was only funded to provide for 160 children in Head Start without the Norwalk contribution but continued to care for and educate 275 children, he said. Local politicians have convinced HHS to allocate enough money to CDI to continue looking after and educating all 275 kids through June, he said.

Another issue was the amount of time the children are in school. The federal government provides for six hours per day of Head Start education, but NEON had been providing eight hours. ACF spokesman Kenneth Wolfe said in his Tuesday press release that CDI will provide six hours a day this week and eight hours beginning Monday.

Jackson said about 80 percent of the Head Start teachers employed by NEON will be rehired by CDI. The teachers were in an orientation program with CDI as the politicians spoke.

Duff spoke of the hardship born by parents who are dependent upon Head Start to help them keep their jobs.

“I think the best thing that we will see is when we see kids coming in happy … ready to come back here and back to their routine, giving parents the opportunity to come back to their routine,” Duff said. “I can’t imagine the unbelievable stress it must be for parents who have had to juggle day care amongst all of the other things that they do, too.”

Original story:

NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalk’s Head Start program will reopen Wednesday morning, according to a spokesman for the federal Administration for Children and Families.

The program will resume under the direction of Community Development Institute (CDI), a Colorado-based agency brought in by ACF on an interim basis to run the program in place of Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now (NEON). NEON’s contract to run the program was suspended by ACF on Oct. 24 due to financial and safety concerns.

A press conference is being held at 10 a.m. Tuesday at Nathaniel Ely School to announce the reopening.

According to an email from ACF spokesman Kenneth Wolfe, “The Head Start team from CDI was in Norwalk yesterday afternoon to complete the hiring process for teachers and staff. The majority of former NEON employees (approximately 55 staff) who previously submitted pre-employment paperwork to CDI returned to complete the hiring process.”

All 13 Head Start classrooms will reopen Wednesday, he said.

Head Start teachers and staff reported for work at 8 a.m. today (Tuesday) to prepare for classes and services tomorrow.

The 13 classrooms have the capacity to support a total of 232 Head Start children – the 217 funded by ACF and 15 additional children funded by the state, the release said.

The Head Start program will reopen with a six-hour school day from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. CDI will increase to an eight-hour day by Monday as staffing is adjusted to support this service delivery model, according to Wolfe.

Parents will be contacted today with the details.

This story will be updated.

Comments

13 responses to “Delays resolved, Norwalk Head Start set to reopen Wednesday”

  1. Casey Smith

    So, NEON’s contract was “suspended”, not “terminated”? And CDI is just the “interim” manager? I sincerely hope that when CDI finishes up, it won’t end the same way that it did with Ms. Pheonius.

  2. The Norwalker

    No need to pat NEON on the back, remember all of the state programs that NEON lost in this fiasco which are still in limbo. There are plenty of clients in the Stamford/Norwalk area who do not have local access unless they goto a DSS Office.

  3. Bamboozled

    I am glad that some if the staff got their jobs back! This was a lesson learned and I hope the ones who did get them back appreciate it and does not take it for granted. I hope they will take their roles very seriously. For the ones who didn’t I wish them the best!! There is always light from darkness. Keep your heads up and keep the faith.

  4. The Norwalker

    Bamboozled

    Most of the people who lost their jobs had nothing to do with the funding or how it was spent. Most of the problems that NEON faced was not related to employee performance, but the lack of funds where they were needed for things like repairs, upgrades, supplies for program and not having funds correctly directed to the programs that the State was paying for.

    The question now is why are there Senior Management Employees still on the NEON payroll? I have not heard of any demotions, their job performance at the least should have called for this.

    At this point NEON does not need any Senior Management other than Mr. Jackson. What is needed are Junior Accountants and Bookkeepers to organize the records for their Auditor or the States’ Investigators.

  5. loveforthecity

    Bruce Morris, Bob Duff, Chris Perone are a complete joke! They ran the place into the ground allowing incompetent people to lead. Now they want to get infront of the cameras to act as if they have saved the place. All three of these so called “legislators” need to go. And did you see Bobby Burgess in the back there? It’s good to see who Bob Duff has aligned himself with.

  6. dawn

    Norwalk better not come up with some found money to help pay the bills.
    .
    NOT A DIME untill they prove their accounting system is sound and the thieves are ALL PROSECUTED.
    .
    Mr Jackson, have you begun to look for the fraud yet??? It is not hard to find.

  7. WOW!

    @loveforthecity & @dawn

    You both are right on! Why is NEON even a part of this press conference. After repeatedly being warned, they were finally booted. If the problems with CDI taking over had to do with Health and Human Services, then NEON had no business being there. They had nothing to do with fixing this problem! THEY CAUSED THE MESS!
    This looks like a weak attempt on the part of Duff, Perrone, Morris and Bobby Burgess to protect NEON’s butt. Jackson is trying to play the blame game again, on the City of Norwalk. He’s a little smarter than Chiquita, though. He uses the kids as a shield, saying that NEON allowed 115 extra kids into the HeadStart program anticipating $1.3 million from Norwalk. Hogwash! If you don’t have the money, don’t spend it! Mayor Rilling looked liked a trapped rat! He’s being played by these clowns to cough up the $$$ or look like scrooge. Mayor Rilling, don’t let these carpetbaggers from Stamford get away with it!

  8. EveT

    I agree no funding organization should give NEON a dime until it is determined where the previous money went and a proper, trustworthy accounting system is put in place.

  9. ScopeonNorwalk

    How smart are Jim Himes and the feds? Hello, the exact same people here from NEON standing in front of the camera. Don’t be surprised if money starts to be “mismanaged” again… Was a CDI rep even at this press conference?

    1. Mark Chapman

      @ScopeOnNorwalk

      There was no one from CDI or ACF at the press conference. The people at the press conference were the Rev. Tommie Jackson, members of Norwalk’s state delegation and Mayor Harry Rilling. Oh, and a Himes stand-in.

  10. WOW!

    Thank you Mark. There was one other individual who was standing right there with the group. Bobby Burges. This press conference was a lame excuse for politicians, together with NEON’s former head and current head, to set the stage for a NEON comeback. Mayor Rilling did not look comfortable being there and knows he’s being used.
    Rep. Himes knew better than to grandstand with these clowns. He did his job for the sake of the kids. His job was to restore HeadStart with CDI, not NEON. Remember, NEON was the disgraced group that got kicked out in the first place!!!
    I am sick to my stomach looking at politicians trying to protect a name (NEON) instead of trying to protect the programs that NEON mismanaged. The Programs are needed. Good agencies can manage them. Not all jobs can be saved. NEON had unnecessary redundancy. What needs to be looked at is saving needed positions and then interview for qualified applicants (former NEON employees or others).
    Chapter 7 is the only way to go. Unsecured creditors would not get anything, unfortunately. Chapter 11 would get unsecured creditors maybe 5 cents on the dollar and NEON would still be in the hole with a terrible reputation and funders nervous to donate. These Programs deserve better governance.

  11. Tim T

    loveforthecity
    Bruce Morris, Bob Duff, Chris Perone and Bobby Burgess . Are these not all the same ones that Rilling aligned himself with to get elected??
    Also glad to see Rilling worked so hard for NEON aka the tax takers considering these are the ones that were his base in the election..SAD

  12. Mayor Rilling’s arrival at the press conference was delayed. That may have been the reason for the body language you are describing. He looked harried to me.

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