Principal forced teachers to falsify documents for Head Start program

The principal of Oak Ridge Preschool forced teachers under threat of being fired to create 33 false documents to satisfy federal auditors, according to the city school system’s superintendent.

Further from the News Sentinel:
The deception in late January, when many teachers were summoned back to the preschool at night to create fake records, quickly unraveled after an investigation, and as one result, the preschool’s financial future is in jeopardy.

The Anderson County School System is the contractor that oversees the Oak Ridge Head Start program, which is a key component of the city’s preschool operated by Oak Ridge Schools.

After learning of the preschool’s problems, the Anderson County Board of Education earlier this month nixed next year’s Head Start contract with Oak Ridge Schools. It’s worth nearly $700,000.

Because Anderson County Schools has oversight duties of Oak Ridge’s Head Start, “this could impact our (Head Start) funding,” Anderson County Schools Director Larry Foster said. “I have to make sure our monitoring process is up to snuff.”

Head Start officials in response to the records deception could make the county school system rebid the annual contract, he said. “This is a critical funding year for us,” Foster said. In the past, private agencies have operated the program, he said.

The county school system receives a little more than $2 million a year in Head Start funds for 279 students. Head Start is a federal program that seeks to promote school readiness of children from low-income families ages birth to 5.

It Oak Ridge, it serves 112 children ages 3-5 — or half of the 224 children in Oak Ridge Preschool. Most of the balance of the preschool’s budget comes from state funds.

The mass falsification of records at the direction of former Principal Melinda White apparently prompted her resignation from her $80,000-a-year job on April 2 — the day after Oak Ridge Schools Superintendent Bruce Borchers placed her on administrative leave without pay.

White was suspended in late January immediately after preschool teachers who refused to participate in the mass deception reported the incident the day after it occurred.