At least 20 Shelby County Head Start workers protested the loss of as many as 350 jobs outside the Shelby County Schools monthly board meeting Tuesday night. The workers have been given notices that their jobs with the county end this month and they say that SCS has made no assurances that they will be hired back if it takes over the Head Start contract on July 1.
Head Start is a federal program for children below the poverty line that includes preschool as well as nutritional and health services.
“Some of the employees have been with Head Start for forty years or more,” said Netra Weatherby, the union spokesperson for the protesting workers last night.
As a result of the job losses, the protesters say SCS may not have enough workers to avoid a disruption to the educational and health services Head Start programs offer to more than 5,000 predominantly low-income children in Shelby County. The workers have heard that they may not be hired back because of the the high salaries and pension costs of experienced workers, says Weatherby, who has more than 20 years of experience.
An SCS spokesman wrote in an email that they won’t know whether the district has been awarded the Head Start contract, or whether it will be awarded to the other applicant, Porter-Leath, until July 1. But the district put out a Request For Prosposal on June 13 to outsource Head Start services for 2,200 of the 4,262 children that it proposed to serve in its federal Head Start application.  Weatherby says that the numbers in the RFP don’t add up and will lead to a reduction in the number of children being served.
“Head Start is the best program that you can have,” Weatherby said. “Not only do we provide educational services, we’re a social service. We deal with the whole family. Some of the parents who come in don’t know how to advocate for themselves and their children. We teach them all that.”