Heartland Head Begin Hopes To Flip Nook After Inside Energy Struggles, Office Points

A dispute between leaders of a government-funded early childhood program for low-income families is about to be resolved, leading to the resignation of the agency’s executive director.

An internal power struggle and other work culture issues at Heartland Head Start became public recently when the nonprofit’s board of directors filed a lawsuit against the Policy Council (a separate group of parents) and executive director Karen Bruning. The Board of Directors and Policy Council, according to the lawsuit, came across Bruning’s 2020 rating. In January, the Political Council voted to remove the chairmanship of the Board of Directors – something the lawsuit claimed it had no authority to do.

The Board of Directors, led by Chair Julia Cotter, filed its lawsuit on January 26, asking a judge to help settle the dispute and an injunction to prevent the Political Council from making unilateral changes. The board of directors also sought an injunction to prevent Bruning and others from slandering the board of directors against Head Start employees and parents.

The parties have now settled their differences and the board is pursuing a motion to dismiss its own lawsuit, his lawyer Nathan Hinch said.

“You have had further discussions that have helped resolve these differences of opinion, you have reached common ground, and the lawsuit is no longer necessary,” said Hinch. “There was a willingness to put personal ego aside and put organization first and try to work some of these things through.”

As part of the decision, Bruning resigned on March 19. Teri Meismer is the new interim managing director of Head Start. Tim Margherio, Susan Wordel. Kathy Trainor and Emily Evanson complete the leadership team.

The federally funded Heartland Head Start typically serves hundreds of children and families in McLean and Livingston counties.

“There has never been an interruption in services for children and families,” Meismer told WGLT. “The core value of Heartland Head Start is the well-being of our children and families, and that has never been at risk. The Board of Directors, Policy Council and staff were very attentive and determined to ensure this throughout the process. “

The lawsuit was just the latest sign of a difficult workplace culture within Heartland Head Start in recent years.

A federal lawsuit against former employee Mary Martin’s Heartland Head Start, which she filed in November, is still pending. Martin alleged the agency violated federal family and sick leave law by approving, revoking, and then reciprocating her request for medical leave. Martin said it was Bruning who stepped in after that vacation was approved by Head Start’s HR director and requested the approval of a doctor selected by Head Start.

The HR director raised concerns about Bruning’s conduct in relation to Martin’s case to the Board of Directors. This emerges from two letters received from WGLT in 2017.

In mid-March, Head Start attorneys asked for more time to respond to the lawsuit, citing the “recent major reshuffles and staffing changes” within the organization.

This is not the only case of leadership changes within the organization. In late 2019, two director-level employees (operations manager and director of child and family services) left the organization as well as an HR specialist, Bruning said. At the time, Bruning told WGLT that turnover in early childhood business was common, even for director-level positions.

“We always have employees. We are a practice site, ”said Bruning.

These personnel changes came when the Illinois Department of Children & Family Services (DCFS) discovered during an annual surveillance visit in August 2019 that Heartland Head Start “did not have background approvals for multiple employees and the background approval issues were being carried over to the other three Heartland locations” said a DCFS spokesman. Internal emails received from WGLT show Head Start employees referring to the situation as a “cluster” and “chaos” that needed to be addressed. The issue was resolved in early December 2019 with no Heartland Head Start violations reported, DCFS said.

That time at the end of 2019 was a time of “restlessness and stress” for Heartland Head Start, in which “we ensured the validity and quality of our program for families and our frontline workers,” wrote members and staff of the Policy Council in a Jan 8, 2021, letter to the Board of Directors. In a letter dated January 14, 2021, the Board of Directors was accused by the Policy Council of having “put our agency and our grant in jeopardy” 15 months ago, which would have been autumn 2019. (The agency is funded by a federal grant from the U.S. Department of Health, as well as local game funding.)

In 2018, Heartland Head Start and Bruning were sued by two former employees. They alleged that Bruning sent an email to all employees falsely claiming that they had been disciplined for misconduct and that they had given up their jobs to humiliate them. The women later dropped their complaint.

The former HR director involved in Martin’s case also pointed out that all employees are sending an email to the board members, according to a letter received from WGLT. “That email revealed sensitive personnel information, including full names and reasons for dismissal. This email constitutes a serious breach of confidentiality and violates the rights of the people named in the email, ”wrote the former HR manager.

The voluntary board of directors includes ordinary Alderman Karyn Smith and, until recently, Bloomington Alderman Jeff Crabill. Crabill said he resigned in January because other commitments prevented him from spending the time required in the position. Quoting the “board dynamic with the CEO”, he said he “didn’t feel like I could spend the time I needed”.

There is no subscription fee to hear or read our stories. Thanks to the support of the community, everyone can access this important public service. Donate now and help fund your public media.

Comments are closed.