- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 22, 2014

OAK RIDGE, Tenn. (AP) - A Head Start program in Oak Ridge has been called off for next year after an audit concluded that the preschool’s principal threatened to fire teachers who didn’t create 33 false documents to satisfy federal auditors.

The Anderson County school system nixed next year’s $700,000 Head Start contract with the Oak Ridge Schools. School Director Larry Foster says he’ll have to make sure the monitoring process is up to standards.

The Knoxville News Sentinel reported (http://bit.ly/1txcJZR ) that auditors uncovered the issue in January after multiple teachers were called back to the preschool to create false records.

The Anderson County School System is the contractor that oversees the Oak Ridge Head Start program, a key component of the city’s preschool operated by Oak Ridge Schools.

Head Start officials in response to the records deception could make the county school system rebid the annual contract, he said.

The county school system receives a little more than $2 million a year in Head Start funds for 279 students. Head Start is a federal program that seeks to promote school readiness of children from low-income families ages birth to 5.

In Oak Ridge it serves 112 children ages 3-5 - or half of the 224 children in Oak Ridge Preschool. Most of the balance of the preschool’s budget comes from state funds.

The mass falsification of records at the direction of former Principal Melinda White apparently prompted her resignation from her $80,000-a-year job on April 2 - the day after Oak Ridge Schools Superintendent Bruce Borchers placed her on administrative leave without pay.

White was suspended in late January immediately after preschool teachers who refused to participate in the mass deception reported the incident the day after it occurred.

Ten employees who participated in creating fake records received disciplinary actions ranging from oral warnings to termination, Borchers wrote to Foster.

“Each of our employees appears to have acted under duress and with fear of losing their positions,” Borchers wrote.

Charlsey Cofer, an administrator in the preschool, has been named interim principal. Her salary is $78,093.

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Information from: Knoxville News Sentinel, http://www.knoxnews.com