SCS ends pre-school partnership with Porter-Leath

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A 7-year partnership between Shelby County Schools and the non-profit, Porter-Leath is over.

Porter-Leath served hundreds of families with preschoolers in the Shelby County school district, but on June 30, the partnership will end.

The main argument is about how money from the federal Head Start grant is spent.

Both SCS and Porter-Leath feel like the other is spending too much money on administrators instead of students and programs.

Meanwhile, Senior Vice President of Early Childhood Services, Karen Harrell, worries about the students and teachers who this change will impact.

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“The initial reaction is one of shock, one of devastation and disappointment,” said Harrell.

Harrell said the nonprofit told SCS about its concerns with receiving less grant money.

In a news release, Porter-Leath claims the Head Start grant has fallen $701,000 while SCS’s budget for the Head Start grant increased $4.5 million.

For context, the Head Start grant is a federal program that helps with school readiness for students ages 0-5.

Porter-Leath said SCS is shorting services and resources for families.

“It’s definitely going to impact, unfortunately, our children and families will be a casualty in the situation,” said Harrell.

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Harrell argues SCS violated the Head Start grant program by treating Porter-Leath as a contractor, allowing them to provide more services than originally agreed to.

FOX13 was told the non-profit did not receive money for the extra services.

“I can’t speak to claims that SCS has been out of compliance historically, but I will say in regards to staying in compliance with the grant, there has always been corrective action that was taken,” said SCS spokesperson Jerica Phillips.

Phillips argues Porter-Leath wanted more money for fewer services. She claims the nonprofit is using more of the money for administrators.

“There is a salary cap for administration, and we understand their CEO to be above the salary cap, and so by bringing those things to their attention around the fact that we would be out of compliance to provide additional funding, we wanted to ensure that they were aware and that we would not be willing to move forward with any additional compliance challenges,” said Phillips.

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Phillips also argues programming costs increased to meet federal compliance and provide services for remote learning, wrap-around support to families, playground equipment, and more.

She said Porter-Leath’s contribution is appreciated, but now it’s time to move on.

“Sometimes there has to be change,” said Phillips. “Change is difficult, but certainly again, when you’ve had a long-standing partnership, it’s not always easy to walk away.”

Four of the Porter-Leath schools are owned by SCS.

FOX13 asked SCS what will happen to the staff there, and Phillips said HR will be available to speak with them for future opportunities.

Monday, June 14, during the Shelby County Board of Education Academic Performance Committee meeting, Superintendent Dr. Joris M. Ray and District leaders clarified facts regarding claims about Porter-Leath’s expiring contract.

“Memphis-Shelby County Schools has a responsibility to meet a higher standard to serve children,” said Superintendent Dr. Joris M. Ray. “We must be good stewards of taxpayer dollars and ensure ALL federally funded programs are not jeopardized by non-compliance. Essentially, Porter-Leath was asking for more money at the top for administration and not in the classroom. While this is not the outcome we anticipated, it does NOT change our mission to provide high-quality instruction and support.”

You can watch the full presentation here.

You can read the Superintendent’s full transcript here.

These discussions follow Friday, June 11’s announcement of failed negotiations for Pre-K services for the District.