Audit prompts review of Head Start operation

The Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester Head Start program is headquartered on U.S. Highway 52 in Moncks Corner.

MONCKS CORNER — State and federal officials are examining financial records at the local Head Start program after a recent audit raised questions about a possible misuse of funds, authorities said Wednesday.

The review was prompted by an audit detailing Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester Head Start's funding and expenditures in the fiscal year that ended June 30, said Joel Sawyer, press secretary for Gov. Mark Sanford.

Sawyer would not discuss specifics but said "there were a number of findings in the audit that prompted this."

The review is being done by officials from the governor's Office of Economic Opportunity, a federal grants officer and Head Start representatives. The team met with board members from the local program's managing agency Tuesday night to discuss issues surrounding fiscal management, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Administration for Children and Families, which oversees the federal Head Start program.

Berkeley-Dorchester Counties Economic Development Corp. runs the $12 million local Head Start program, which serves about 1,650 children in the tri-county area.

Head Start provides education, health, nutrition and parent-involvement services for low-income children. Executive Director Patsy Gardner referred comment on Wednesday to EDC Chairman Levy Berry, who could not be reached for comment.

EDC executive board member Kenneth Marion called the audit review "a routine matter" that is done to verify the information submitted.

"There is nothing unusual about this situation. They do this all over the country," he said. "We feel good about them coming in."

This is not the first time the early childhood education program has come under scrutiny.

A rift between the EDC and the program's Policy Council, which is made up of parents and community members, nearly cost the agency its federal Head Start funding this year.

The council complained that it was being kept out of the loop on spending matters, and its members refused to sign off on the budget until just before a Jan. 31 deadline imposed by the Health and Human Services Department, which runs the program on the federal level.

The agency briefly yanked its contract with Berkeley-Dorchester Counties EDC in early 2006, citing safety problems, crowded classrooms and playgrounds and lack of communication with parents.

The local agency said it corrected all the concerns, and by November 2006 was allowed to keep receiving federal money. Recent federal reviews have generally been positive.