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Shelby County Schools ends pre-K relationship with Porter-Leath

Updated: Jun. 10, 2021 at 1:43 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Shelby County Schools is ending its relationship for pre-kindergarten services with Porter-Leath.

In a news release, SCS said after weeks of discussions the they could not agree on a contract, so the district opted to provide direct pre-K services instead of continuing its relationship with Porter-Leath.

SCS said Porter-Leath asked for a “substantial increase in funding to provide fewer services” at a higher cost that “could jeopardize the SCS Head Start grant” by putting the district out of compliance with federal requirements.

“Porter-Leath was requesting some substantial increases in funding, but also at the same time providing fewer services for students at a higher cost,” said Jerica Phillips, SCS chief communications officer.

Karen Harrell, senior vice president of early childhood services for Porter-Leath disagrees, saying they always submit high bids that are then negotiated down.

“What we requested were our true costs. Each and every year, everyone knows that Porter-Leath fundraises to provide quality services to supplement our grants,” she said.

In a news release Thursday, Porter-Leath president Sean Lee said, “SCS has continually decreased Head Start funding available to Porter-Leath, making continued operations in Porter-Leath centers using Head Start resources impossible without significant cuts that would diminish quality and increase risks to health and safety for children, families, and staff.”

Lee said they “were appalled” to learn of the district’s decision on a statewide phone call Thursday morning.

“SCS is walking away from millions of dollars of private investment in infrastructure and quality improvement, but Porter-Leath will continue to utilize those investments to serve families going forward,” said Lee in a news release. “We know that the best place for children and families is with Porter-Leath.”

SCS says Porter-Leath provides direct Pre-K services to 1,520 children out of about 5,600 pre-K students in the district. SCS will now offer direct pre-K services, adding there will be no disruption.

“This transition will be a difficult transition and unfortunately, when you experience change like this, the casualty will be the children,” said Karen Harrell, senior vice president of early childhood services.

“We want to do what is best for the children of Memphis and Shelby County Schools,” said Phillips.

SCS says pre-k services will not be disrupted.

“We know we’re able to provide these pre-k services directly to our families,” said Phillips.

Harrell says the district is walking away from millions of dollars invested in new buildings and increased end of year scores since the partnership began. She says the nonprofit does expect some downsizing, but they plan to continue providing quality early childhood learning to Memphis families.

“We want the community to know that we’re still here, that we’re still present,” said Harrell.

Porter-Leath’s current contract with the district ends June 30.

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