- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 13, 2004

Most Head Start leaders’ salaries and travel expenses appear to meet federal standards, according to a federal report to Congress.

However, some leaders seem to have excessive salaries, and a few centers, including two in Alaska, seem to spend a lot on meetings and travel, according to Health and Human Services Department data released by Congress yesterday.

The HHS report is based on salary, compensation and travel data gathered this year from almost all the federal preschool program’s 1,300 grantees.

The report states that “abuses aren’t a uniform occurrence across the nation,” said Rep. Michael N. Castle, Delaware Republican and chairman of the House Education and the Workforce education reform subcommittee.

Head Start salaries are supposed to be “comparable” to similar jobs in the field, and HHS reports that the mean salary for a Head Start executive director was $58,522 and that for a director was $48,200. The average Head Start teacher salary was $24,051.

But more than a dozen Head Start executive directors earned higher salaries than HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson, who earns $171,900 a year, said Rep. John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican and chairman of the committee.

The report also concludes that 14 Head Start directors were paid six-figure salaries. Additionally, four Head Start centers — including those located in Texas, Alaska and New York — spent 20 percent or more of their budgets on meetings and travel. Nineteen more spent 5 percent or less on travel.

House-passed Head Start reform legislation would help “rein in inappropriate spending” and allow new state oversight, Mr. Castle said.

Rep. George Miller, California Democrat, who opposes such legislation, said the HHS report confirms that the “vast majority of Head Start grantees use their federal dollars wisely.”

HHS officials did not discuss sanctions or disciplinary actions in the report, but released a separate report outlining plans to improve the overall management of the program.

“For example, we have a growing problem of underenrollment in Head Start,” in which grantees can’t find enough low-income children to attend their programs, said Wade F. Horn, HHS assistant secretary for children and families. “We’re taking steps to address [that].”

House Democrats, meanwhile, are pushing for an investigation into the financial dealings of federal Head Start official Windy Hill.

Earlier this year, the National Head Start Association accused Ms. Hill of “serious misconduct” involving overbilling, bonuses and other compensation during her 1993-2002 tenure as leader of a Texas Head Start program.

In late April, Ms. Hill, through her attorney in Bastrop, Texas, called for an HHS investigation into the accusations to clear her name.

Recently, Mr. Miller and Rep. Lynn Woolsey, California Democrat, sent a letter to Mr. Thompson also asking for an HHS investigation into Ms. Hill’s Texas records.

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