Proposal denied, ESD forges ahead

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*Umatilla, Morrow and Union counties have been left out of the official start to a statewide overhaul of early childhood programs, but local leaders say that won’t stop them from collaborating.

The three counties banded together to form the Blue Mountain Early Learning Hub, one of many regional “hubs” the governor directed counties to create as a central authority for government-funded programs serving children from womb to kindergarten.

A proposal to the state listed the InterMountain Education Service District and Umatilla Morrow Head Start as “co-leads” of the hub. But their application was recently rejected, denying them $280,000 in state funding and the chance to be part of the first wave of officially recognized hubs.

“That was a real shocker to us, because we (the ESD and Head Start) had probably the longest history of working together,” said InterMountain ESD director Mark Mulvihill.

He said the problem seemed to be the way the grant was written, not the actual ideas in the grant proposal, and the state provided a lot of helpful feedback for the second wave of applications coming in March. So the entities involved in the Blue Mountain Early Learning Hub are pressing ahead without state funding. Their governing board’s first official meeting is January 22.

Mulvihill said getting all the early childhood partners at the table — including school districts, preschools, human services and healthcare — has already started the streamlining process. Governor John Kitzhaber has said that is his goal in creating the hubs.

“When we started talking we discovered we are replicating things, particularly parent training and professional development,” Mulvihill said.

The idea behind the hubs is to create a central governing board, similar to the Collaborative Care Organizations for healthcare, that will be responsible for streamlining early childhood services and will be held accountable to the state for those programs’ results.

Cathy Wamsley, executive director for Umatilla Morrow Head Start, said there are more than 200 children on the waiting list who qualify for Head Start services but aren’t being served due to lack of resources.

“Those of us who serve that at-risk population are at capacity ... a huge number of kids are going to begin kindergarten behind,” she said.

Wamsley said the hope is that the hub will identify ways to eliminate redundancies, cut programs that aren’t producing results and share resources. The savings can then be used to serve more children with programs that the hub has evidence work.

She said Head Start and the ESD are acting as administrators but the hub’s governing board includes representatives from K-12 education, healthcare, human services, businesses and parents.

Examples of early childhood programs that will fall under the umbrella of the hub include early intervention for children with disabilities, infant nutrition programs, home visits to new mothers, prenatal support, preschools, first-time parent classes and screenings to identify disabilities or assess kindergarten readiness.

Mulvihill said there might be some concern that the ESD and Head Start are making a power grab and will use their position as the hub to direct more resources to their programs. But he said during the planning stages it has become clear that the staff hours and resources that will be put into the hub by the two entities will far outweigh the $280,000 awarded every two years, most of which will go to other programs anyway.

“Both of us are looking at the big picture for kids, not growing our organization,” he said.

*This article originally appeared in the Jan. 8, 2014, edition of the East Oregonian and was written by reporter Jade McDowell. It has been posted to this web site with permission from the East Oregonian.