‘Sloppy’ accounting leaves Jeffco short of Head Start funds

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By AJ Vicens

A fund that Jefferson County taps to meet its matching requirement for Head Start preschool services apparently is not large enough to cover the county’s obligations for this fiscal year.

County staff determined last November that the social services fund will run dry before December, leaving the county $650,000 short for Head Start — and in violation of federal law.

Head Start provides free preschool services to 478 families in Jefferson, Gilpin, Clear Creek and Park counties. Roughly 80 percent of the $2 million program is funded through state and federal grants, but the county is required to come up with the other 20 percent.

"The unrestricted fund balance in the Social Services Fund continues to be spent down, and current estimates show that this cannot be sustained past the 2009 fiscal year," human services budget staff wrote in a November 2008 memo.

Jeffco Human Services Director Lynn Johnson said she'll present the problem to the county commissioners April 28.

"We need to come up with an accurate funding source for that," Johnson said.

The problem was discovered after Johnson became the department director in the summer of 2007 and began creating a line-item budgeting and accounting system. After Johnson and her staff began digging into how money came into the program, they couldn't accurately say where the county match was coming from.

It took the county staff working on the problem months to sort it out.

Lynnae Flora, acting director of the community assistance division, was an acting director of the Head Start program before Johnson arrived.

"We started uncovering budgeting that was strange," Flora said. "I don't think there was anything illegal. It was just really sloppy bookkeeping."

County Administrator Jim Moore said Johnson inherited the problem and "is working to correct it." He points out that internal and federal audits done on the program two years ago did not find the problem, and that county staff brought the problem to the commissioners' attention.

Johnson said she's been trying to bring Head Start costs down recently. She furloughed two people who worked with the program on mental health issues and hired contractors for that work.

Commissioner Kathy Hartman said she's "been aware of, involved with this situation for some time."

She credits Johnson and her staff for finding the problem, which she calls a serious issue.

"They're the ones that had the candor to say this is a problem, we have to provide this match, and (previous Head Start directors) had been doing it in a way that was not outlined and transparent as it could have been."

Hartman said that since she became a commissioner in 2006, the Head Start program "was presented to the commissioners as a program that doesn't cost us any money … that they were meeting their match requirement through other ways. In point of fact, they were not."

Contact AJ Vicens at aj@evergreenco.com, and check www.columbinecourier.com for updates and breaking news.