(WMC-TV) - Shelby County will be out of the Head Start business as of Wednesday. This means 600 employees will no longer be employed by the county.
After 39 years running Head Start, the county will not apply at the 11:59 p.m. deadline Tuesday. Mayor Mark Luttrell's decision not to apply to run Head Start will either cause job growth or job loss.
"I don't think we'll see a loss of jobs in the community," he said.
But County Commissioner Steve Mulroy says this decision would be the largest single loss of county employment. He says neither Porter Leath nor county schools, both applying to run Head Start, have committed to rehiring the employees.
"We've heard new information that suggests the school system is not going to continue with those employees. They're going to outsource and that's a real concern," said Mulroy.
Luttrell says county government has limitations to grow the program and more money flexibility will allow the new operator to expand the program, creating more jobs.
'We're one of the very few governments still in the Head Start business. Most Head Starts have been assumed by nonprofits because they are more flexible, more nimble," said Lutrell.
Mulroy says the recession is not a good time to put 600 jobs on the line.
"I think the administration should put in an application, because the fate of the workers is so uncertain right now," said Mulroy.
Luttrell says the county is only serving one third of the children who need Head Start. He says 42 percent of Head Start funding pays for employee benefits and more money will reach children when someone else takes it over.
"If someone else picks up that program, the benefits are not that generous. Then, more money will be able to go into the classroom," said Luttrell.
The county contract with those 600 employees officially ends next July. The outcome should be clearer at that time.
AFSCME, the union that represents the workers, was unavailable for comment.
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