The Natchitoches Parish Journal submitted a request for documents and written questions regarding the Head Start program in Natchitoches Parish. We received the documents and a response from Rick Nowlin, Parish President. We are posting his response here:
Natchitoches Parish Journal
P.O. Box 2537
Natchitoches, LA. 71457
April 24, 2015
To Whom it may concern:
Thank you for bringing your concerns about certain parish HS operations to my attention. By means of this email, I will attempt to answer your questions.
1. Head Start funding?
The Parish Head Start program is funded 80% by the federal government. There is a 20% local match which we have met through in-kind services, not cash. In the past, the former Police Jury had to put cash into the program due to budget overruns, but that has not occurred with the Parish Council in the past 2 years.
Also, we have heard some talk (on the street) about the higher degree of oversight exercised by my office. I believe we have a good working relationship with our leaders in the HS program, and they recognize that I try to monitor all programs, especially those in which I must sign documents certifying to the use of significant federal funds. When a program has a budget of over $2 million a year, I need to know where the money is going. We may occasionally disagree on how to accomplish our goals, but we are all committed to the children.
2. Logansport campus?
When I became President, HS had 7 centers—5 in Natchitoches Parish and 2 in DeSoto Parish. The two parish organization was apparently dictated by the federal government and had been in existence for many years. We now have 6 centers since we closed the Logansport center at the beginning of the 2014-2015 school year. I learned that the Logansport site had 3 employees and generally had 5 or fewer children attend school daily. When you add in the cost of the facility and food service, it just did not seem like a good return on the taxpayer’s money. After we made attempts to increase enrollment in Logansport and were not successful, we contacted the Dallas regional office of HS and received permission to close the Logansport center. We used the money saved to add another class at the MLK center in Natchitoches, providing 17 more Natchitoches children the opportunity to attend HS.
One could ask why we are operating a center in DeSoto Parish (Mansfield). The answer is that is the structure given to us and it is basically a package deal for us. We understand that the DeSoto connection is part of the agreement that gets us the centers in Natchitoches Parish. The important thing is that, if we have to operate the center in Mansfield, we need to try to make it the most productive and cost-effective center it can be.
3. Improvements at MLK?
One improvement that I am happy to see being implemented is the restoration of the gym. For many years, the gym has not been available for the children due to inoperable HVAC equipment and problems with utility services to the gym. The gym was being used for a storage building. That means that when it is rainy or cold outside, the children must remain in their classrooms all day. We all know what a challenge that can be for 3 and 4 year olds—and their teachers. After meeting with Ms. Judie Barnum, I directed my staff to get involved and get the gym back in service. In the past 3 months, we have removed the materials and equipment stored in the gym and started the cleanup. Doors have been installed on the bathroom and other improvements will be made soon. Our goal is to have the gym operational by the start of the 2015-2016 school year.
Again, I hope that this information answers your questions. If you need any additional information, please do not hesitate to contact us.
Natchitoches Parish President