BRIDGEPORT — Amid claims that both the school board chair and school board have conflicts of interest that prevented them from voting, renewal of the district’s $11.4 million school readiness grant is moving forward without local school board approval.
Board member Maria Pereira called it a conflict of interest for Board Chairman Kenneth Moales Jr., to vote on the issue because his family members manage 76 of some 1,597 preschool spaces that will be funded in 2013-14.
Moales, however, refused to relinquish the chair, claiming it was unnecessary. The meeting then degenerated into a series of calls for “rules of order,” people shouting over one another and eventually a 5-4 vote to adjourn.
Before that happened, however, Tina Peloso-Ulreich, director of early childhood education and co-chair of the Bridgeport School Readiness Council, told the board that after consulting the state, she learned the school board because it receives about $2.5 million in funding for 468 of the slots, can’t vote on its distribution.
Instead the council voted, even though the school board acts as the fiduciary of the grant.
“The School Readiness Council makes the choices. We bring the recommendation to the state. Anyone who gets a grant, including myself, could not vote,” said Peloso-Ulreich.
School Readiness Councils were formed in the state’s poorest communities in 1997 to help distribute. The chief elected official and the superintendent of schools jointly appoint local council made up of community officials, parents, providers and city and school representatives.
“The grant belongs to the community,” said Peloso-Ulreich.
In some communities, the mayor is the one assigned as the fiduciary. In Bridgeport, the school board was given that role.
Lee Helmerich, school readiness coordinator, said the district is anticipating the same amount of funds as this year, but will fund slightly fewer slots because some are being converted from part-time to full-time.
“More people are going back to work and need the full time slots,” Helmerich said.
Also, next year, the Early Childhood Lab School at Housatonic Community College, has voluntarily reduced its slots to 20, said Helmerich.
The reimbursement rate of $4,500 to $8,346 per student, depending on the length of the school day, was deemed no longer sufficient, Helmerich said. The 15 slots given up were awarded to a new provider, Affordable and Loving Daycare.
Peloso-Ulreich acknowledged the grant has traditionally been approved by the board, but that a complaint made this year, led her to ask the state for clarification. She would not say who made the complaint.
During Monday’s school board meeting, Pereira asked Peloso-Ulreich and Helmerich, what steps the council takes to ensure that the children are in day cares that are financially sound.
There are or have been more than a dozen tax liens placed against Prayer Tabernacle Church of Love, the church run by Moales and now called the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit. In March, a foreclosure action was placed on 1243 Stratford Avenue, the site of one of the daycares, because of an unpaid water bill. Moales said the bill has since been paid.
Moales said there is “not a single lien on the child-care centers” but all to the church, located at 729 Union Avenue. He said those actions stem from his father, the late Bishop Moales, who died two years ago without a will, tying up the estate. He insisted the daycares, which have been in operation for 15 years, are financially sound.
They are also nationally accredited, which is something the state requires in funding school readiness slots.
According to Moales, Pereira called the early childhood office on Friday and advised them not to accept the Kingdom Little Ones grant applications. Moales said his sister, Keyna Moales Byrd, the site director of the daycare, was there to drop off paperwork for the application, and overheard the conversation. He called it an obstruction and his daycares have threatened to sue Pereira.
Pereira declined to comment on the matter.