Did Region 9 Ed Coop abuse funds, personnel, and parent council at Ruidoso area Head Start?

The executive director of a regional agency established to provide education-related services to school districts and students in Capitan, Carrizozo, Cloudcroft, Corona, Ruidoso, Hondo, and Tularosa, has been accused of misusing federal funds as well as harassing and intimidating members of a parent and stakeholder council.

As stated in an email (click here for link to copy of email) to Region 9 Education Cooperative’s (REC 9) coordinating council (comprised of superintendents from each of the districts served by REC 9),  Ms. Davida Cox, Chairperson of the Policy Council for Head Start programs administered by REC 9, raised questions about the use of Head Start funds by the regional coop’s Executive Director Bryan Dooley being “outside the allowable expenditures under the grant.”

The email was also sent to Alfredo Huerta, Program Specialist with the United States Department of Health and Human Services Head Start regional offices in Dallas.

Ms. Cox additionally accused Mr. Dooley of ignoring the role of parents and other stakeholders in Head Start programs serving children in greater Ruidoso.

Ms. Cox writes in the email that Mr. Dooley’s “harassment included threats of losing employment and daycare services for 30 families in the program…”

The email indicates Ms. Cox contacted the Dallas-based regional office of Head Start, and was advised to have a meeting with members of both the Policy Council of the Head Start programs and the Coordinating Council (the superintendents of schools) to further address her concerns.

The Candle reached out to Mr. Dooley on Friday morning by telephone, to get his response to the claims in the email.

The Candle confirmed through other sources that the email was sent to those on the address line of Ms. Cox’s email, including Mr. Dooley and members of the governing body of REC 9.

The person answering the phone stated REC 9 was in the process of moving their offices, and suggested leaving a voice mail message on Mr. Dooley’s voice mail. A message was left on the voice mail of the executive director. In addition, The Candle sent an email to Mr. Dooley.

As of this morning, Mr. Dooley has not responded.

The Candle also sent an email to Mr. Huerta in the Dallas office of Head Start yesterday. We were directed to contact the Washington, DC media offices of the federal agency, and are awaiting an official response at the time of this story being published.

According to the program governance guidance for Head Start programs, HHS requires the establishment of Policy Councils to ensure, among other things, the inclusion of parents in the establishment of policy and goals, as well as in ongoing assessment of progress in reaching those goals.

As stated on the HHS website the role of policy councils is to actively participate “in the development of school readiness goals and helps to assess the program’s progress in achieving those goals. The Policy Council also promotes the critical role that parents play in supporting their children’s progress towards school readiness.”

The Candle’s ongoing investigative research and reporting on NM PED and REC 9.

The Candle has been doing research on the regional coop’s use of public funds from the state and the federal government, and previously published stories regarding the relationship between the New Mexico Public Education Department (NM PED) and REC 9 in the handling of some of those funds.

Excerpts below, from articles written back in December of 2016, along with further information The Candle has discovered suggests a symbiotic relationship with certain individuals at REC 9 and senior NM PED officials which provides an opportunity for NM PED to direct contracts to preferred providers through REC 9, and making it difficult to follow the trail.

REC 9, operates under the auspices, rules and oversight established by NM PED as stated in the enabling legislation:

NM Statute 22-2B-3. Regional education cooperatives authorized.

B. The department shall, by rule, establish minimum criteria for the establishment and operation of cooperatives. The department shall also establish procedures for oversight of cooperatives to ensure compliance with department rule. Cooperatives shall be exempt from the provisions of the Personnel Act [Chapter 10, Article 9 NMSA 1978].

The Candle has learned that key management figures at REC, may have been provided preferential treatment as to compensation, perks, and out of the norm payment for overtime hours.

As stated in the enabling legislation, cooperatives, such as REC 9, are exempt from the provisions of the state’s Personnel Act. But they are subject to oversight and PED rules.

If NM PED is using REC 9 to funnel millions in funds under the radar of routine reporting and posting (or in a manner difficult to determine by routine reporting), REC 9 administrators might expect reciprocal treatment when it comes to oversight of their operations.

The Candle has already reported on millions of dollars PED has sent to REC 9, as excerpted here (look to end of this story for the links to those stories):

“The New Mexico Public Education Department (PED) is spending millions of dollars on no bid contracts with out of state entities.

“This practice has been going on since at least 2013, and generally out of sight of the public and legislators who have approved PED’s annual budgets.

“The Candle is in the process of reviewing what are called “inter-governmental agreements” (IGA’s) between PED and the Region IX Education Cooperative (REC IX), and has an open Inspection of Public Records Act request with REC IX for review of scores of sub-contracts that are derivatives of the many IGA’s between these two government agencies…

“By entering the many intergovernmental agreements with REC IX, Ms. Skandera and her team were able avoid significant, if any, public scrutiny of the derivative contracts – more than 88% of those awarded in one year alone were given to out of state entities, and millions provided as sole source contracts…”

The Candle has additional Inspection of Public Records requests pending before REC 9, and expects to issue several more soon.

According to interviews and a review of minutes of the REC 9’s Coordinating Council, questions were raised last summer regarding the ability to appoint Bryan Dooley (considered to be an insider to much of the activity of REC 9 for many years) to the position of Executive Director because he did not meet the requirements established by the Coordinating Council’s own rules.

The Director of the Head Start program was picked in place of Mr. Dooley to fill the position as interim Executive Director of Region 9.

Then the Coordinating Council moved in subsequent meetings to change the rules and ultimately appoint Mr. Dooley to be the Executive Director.

The email from Ms. Cox raises serious questions and seems to describe a pattern of operating by the REC 9 Cooperative similar to what independent research indicates could be abusive, or at least highly questionable, of the trust placed in REC 9 to administer state and federal funds.

Key irregularities regarding spending and other elements of concerns noted in Ms. Cox’s email include:

Use of funds outside the allowable expenditures under the grant.

Dismissal of four employees without Policy Council approval. Employees were asked to resign or they would be terminated.

Head Start’s employee accusations that a policy council member was responsible for the dismissal of one of the employees addressed above.

Mr. Dooley’s email requesting Ms. Cox to fill out and sign a Policy Council and/or Sub-Committee Action approval form dated 5/1/17 of the EHS Refunding Grant for FY 2018 by the Policy Council when a meeting did not occur.

Subsequent harassment and intimidation from Mr. Dooley towards policy council members in order to sign the EHS Refunding Grant application. His harassment included threats of losing employment and daycare services for 30 families in the program. Such harassment targeted policy members who are employed by EHS partner and/or parents of children in the EHS program.

Misuse of federal funds by paying Head Start employees after they had been asked to resign or they had been dismissed.

Investigation about allegations against Head Start Director without notifying Policy Council.

Verbal and written intimidations by Mr. Dooley regarding conversation requested by policy council members in which they expressed their concerns about Mr. Dooley’s above stated threats and misrepresentation of the consequences of not signing EHS grant.

Actions taken against Head Start personnel that jeopardize the legal ability of Head Start and Region IX.

Out of compliance items in agenda (Enrollment Point Criteria and bridge of confidentiality) or lack of items such as a budget and EHS Refunding Grant Budget.

At the end of Ms. Cox’s email, she wrote asking for a meeting to resolve the concerns she raised:

“As Policy Council Chairperson and a parent of a Head Start child I find it troublesome how the actions stated above jeopardize the Head Start/Early Head Start grant. Therefore, I am taking the advice of the Head Start Regional Office VI to come together as Program Governance to address such issues as stated in the Head Start Performance Standards and our Head Start program.”

Look to The Candle for further reporting on REC9, and NM PED soon.

Links to earlier related reporting (click on title below):

UPDATED: NM PED spends millions on sole source contracts to out of state companies

Almost $1 Million Awarded in Conference Contracts to Hotels and Casino Resort on behalf of NM PED’s programs