'Labor concerns' put agency leader on leave

Published May 3, 2007

The head of an agency that oversees programs for young children in Pasco and Hernando counties has been placed on leave after her bosses became aware of "labor concerns."

Jo-Ann Kay Fuller took over as head of the fractured Pasco Hernando Early Learning Coalition in 2006 after her predecessor stepped down and said he feared for his job.

Fuller could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Board members received a two-paragraph e-mail Tuesday informing them of the matter.

Chairwoman Lisa Hammond said in the memo that she told the board's executive/personnel committee about the concerns Monday. She did not elaborate on what those concerns were. The e-mail described the situation only as "labor concerns among Coalition staff."

She said committee members plan to question all staffers before deciding whether to take any action. She said she expects the process to take less than two weeks and asked board members to contact staff members only on "essential issues."

She also canceled all committee meetings for the next two weeks.

Hammond could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

One board member reached Tuesday said the move came as a surprise.

"It was abrupt, " said Maria Crosby, director of Pasco Head Start programs. "It sounds serious, and if it's that serious, I feel board members need to be involved. I'm troubled. I wish I had been told more."

Crosby said a coalition board meeting last week carried no hint of trouble.

"I was just as shocked as everyone else, " she said.

This is not the first time the coalition's problems have made news. A controversy erupted in 2005 over a vote to deny the Pasco School District $228, 000 to pay for social and medical assistance for poor families with preschool age children.

The school district then ended the program. The coalition failed to find other places to spend the money and had to dole it out in mini-grants a month before the fiscal year ended.

The denial to the school district prompted a board member to call for then-director Jim Garrett's resignation. He later moved his family out of state before announcing he was quitting about a month later. Fuller, who was deputy director at the time, eventually took over.

The feuding also drew a visit from the parent state agency, which called the group "dysfunctional" and urged members to "do some healing."

Lisa Buie can be reached at 813 909-4604 or toll free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 4604. Her e-mail is buie@sptimes.com