Head Start grant is once again an issue

EDINBURG — Hidalgo County commissioners told the county’s Head Start administrator to go back to the drawing board and figure out how to distribute a federal grant in order to give more money to the employees who earn the least — unlike last year, when the top five administrators took the bulk of the money.

The recommendation came Tuesday after Head Start Administrator Teresa Flores asked the commissioners court to approve a 1 percent cost-of-living adjustment for all employees.

The local organization received a little more than $259,000 from the Office of Head Start, the federal agency that oversees the program, earlier this month.

The grant suggested a 1 percent cost-of-living adjustment for all employees and lets the local programs administer whatever is left over as is seen fit locally.

For Hidalgo County, a 1 percent cost-of-living adjustment for all Head Start employees equals about $197,000 with benefits included, leaving nearly $62,000 to be distributed as seen fit.

Flores suggested those funds be used for the purchase of instructional materials.

“Could we increase the lower paid employees by more than 1 percent?” Hidalgo County Precinct 2 Commissioner Eddie Cantu asked Flores.

“That can be done,” she said.

“This court has always not taken (cost-of-living adjustments) and so we wanted to make sure that the money was going to the teachers and the people below the teachers in terms of pay,” Cantu later said. “And I thought that’s what we were going to do.”

Last year, Flores gave everyone a 2 percent cost-of-living adjustment with the exception of herself and four other top administrators. They took home an adjustment that ranged between 12 and 16 percent — with Flores taking the most money.

The Head Start administrator, who was criticized by commissioners at the time, argued it boiled down to parity and equity. Meanwhile, about half of the more than 700 employees in the program earn about $20,000 per year.

Flores argued Tuesday those employees make over $12 per hour — once you subtract their time off during summer and the holidays.

Her seemingly skewed calculations moved an otherwise-quiet Commissioner Joe Flores to respond.

“Well that’s not $12 an hour,” he shot back.

Commissioners instructed Teresa Flores to work with Valde Guerra, the county’s executive officer, to review the figures. All decisions must be submitted to the Office of Head Start by the end of the month.

nlopez@themonitor.com