Head Start managers replaced following waste of tax dollars | News
Largo, Florida -- The ax has fallen on the executive team at Pinellas Head Start following a series of reports from the 10 News Investigators.
The federal government is sending in an emergency interim management agency to take over the program early next week. This swift action is coming after the 10 News Investigators exposed that the agency wasted thousands of your tax dollars at a retreat at a fancy spa and resort.
We have been telling you about problems at Pinellas Head Start for more than a year, including allegations of wasted tax dollars, inappropriate use of federal funds and nepotism. But the straw that broke the agency's back was the retreat they held earlier this spring. The Department of Health and Services -- with some prodding from Representative Kathy Castor -- decided it was time to swing the ax.
Yvette Sanchez Fuentes is the Director of the Office of Head Start in the HHS. She wasn't happy about what she saw in our reports detailing close to $6,000 for a three day conference at the fancy safety harbor spa.
"I saw the reports ... and we decided to take some strong action," said Fuentes before she spoke to the Florida Head Start Conference in downtown Tampa.
Fuentes told us that that the mission of Pinellas Head Start is to prepare children and their families to go to school and become successful, not to spend time at fancy resorts. When Rep. Castor of Tampa saw our reports as well, she sent a letter to the Inspector General at HHS demanding an investigation.
"To think that one penny that was supposed to go to kids' education was going to fancy meals and a resort and spa is just untenable," said Castor, who worked behind the scenes to get HHS to move quickly.
"Swift action was necessary here to insure the funds go to the kids and their education, rather than wasteful spending."
Now HHS will being taking over the management and operation of the program until a new provider can be found. As for executive Director Juanita Heinzen, who was arrested last year for lying to police, she will now have plenty of time to relax at the Safety Harbor Spa, but she will have to do it on her dime instead of the taxpayers.
Fuentes wants the kids and families the agency has helped in the past will still be there for them.
"Most importantly, we want parents to understand we are going to continue to provide Head Start, we are going to continue to provide quality Head Start and make kids and families have the resources the supplies and support they need every day."
The agency coming to run the program will only stay until a new organization can be chosen to run Pinellas Head Start, and we are told the Pinellas School District is a leading contender.
Meanwhile, the old executive team is not going down without a fight. We are told with the help of the agency's board chairman and attorney, they are trying to file paperwork to keep their jobs. That probably won't fly well with the investigative team that is also coming in to look at the evidence of wrongdoing at Pinellas Head Start.