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Good Grades From Federal HHS Review of CAO Head Start

Good Grades From Federal HHS Review of CAO Head Start

February review not only praises program, but says all past issues cleared up

BUFFALO, NY April 15, 2019 – The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the federal authority that regulates Head Start and Early Head Start programs at the Community Action Organization of Western New York Inc., gave them a clean bill of health in a report Feb. 6, 2019.

The significance of this report, from the HHS’s Administration for Children and Families, Office of Head Start in Washington, is that it shows the CAO’s programs are not only operating fully and properly. It also affirms that past, routine issues faced by many similar programs nationwide, were corrected.

“Based on the information gathered during our review, we have closed the previously identified findings. Accordingly, no corrective action is required at this time,” said a letter about the review, signed by Dr. Deborah Bergeron, director, Office of Head Start.

The Head Start programs were apparently the target of a sought-after review by two disgruntled former CAO board members who claimed there was a need to hire a second outside auditor for the programs late last year. They secretly attempted, without majority board knowledge, and without an RFP, to hire an outside auditing firm, while a regular financial and operational audit was under way by board-approved auditors.

That was obviously unneeded, and a potential waste of agency time and money, since HHS itself found no problems with the two programs, and calls into question the board members’ true motives.

“We have said all along that we welcomed scrutiny and that we maintained and have always maintained proper and transparent communication with, and oversight by, federal and state agencies that regulate our many programs,” said L. Nathan Hare, the CAO’s CEO and executive director. “All reports to the contrary, and despite well-publicized efforts by two disgruntled former board members who wanted to take over our agency, the final authority on our fine Head Start operations has spoken.”

The letter, to CAO board vice-chair Michael Johnson, who at the time was acting board chair, notes that 2,183 children are enrolled in CAO Head Start programs and 535 children in Early Head Start.

“On 2/6/19, the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) conducted a monitoring review of the Community Action Organization of Erie County, Inc., Head Start and Early Head Start programs to determine whether the previously identified findings had been corrected. We wish to thank the governing body, Policy Council, staff and parents of your program for their cooperation and assistance during the review,” Bergeron’s letter states.

The letter from HHS praising the CAO’s operations comes after several weeks of print media reports quoting two former CAO board members who maintained they’d been removed from the board because they tried to start a review of the two CAO Head Start programs HHS has now reviewed and with which it found no fault.

These two asserted, through a compliant print media, that an outside review was needed and prevented by their removal from the board. But they did not have board approval, did not issue an RFP for the work, did not have money they said they did to pay for such an audit, and tried to hire another auditor of the Head Start programs while the regular, annual audit of the CAO was already underway.

That full 33-page audit, released to the public March 11, found the CAO’s consolidated financial statements were presented fairly and in accordance with auditing standards.

Szymkowiak & Associates of Williamsville, NY conducted the audit, which covered the CAO’s fiscal year ending Feb. 28, 2018. The auditors also prepared the agency’s federal Form 990, which the CAO filed with the IRS. The audited financial statements were presented to the CAO Board of Directors, which voted to accept the audit, at its meeting Jan. 29, 2019. The audit and the Form 990 are publicly available on the CAO website.

CAO management and the auditor agree they fully cooperated and gave complete access to accounting records, supporting documents, and all other information requested by the auditor. The auditors further believe that all significant matters and issues were communicated on a timely basis.

The audited financial statements have historically been provided to the CAO’s board annually, as well as to the IRS, and are also always available through Guidestar, now called Candid. The auditor was selected by the board through an RFP as part of CAO’s normal operating procedures.

The CAO has an existing $500,000 line of credit taken out in 2013 and, according to the current year’s notes to the financial statements, there is no outstanding balance. CAO owns an affordable housing project, St. Martin Village, and the property serves as security for the mortgage. The audit also found the CAO has managed and reduced significantly its pension obligation.

In the last year, the CAO helped 46,490 people, utilized 117,258 volunteer hours, operated in 238 partnerships and found non-agency jobs for 341 people.

More about the Community Action Organization of Western New York

The CAO’s mission is to promote opportunities for low-income individuals, families and communities to achieve and sustain self-sufficiency through advocacy, partnerships, access to services and low-to-moderate income housing development. The agency uses a five-pronged approach to fight poverty. These are community health, economic empowerment, educational advancement, neighborhood revitalization and workforce development. For more information go to and to find the agency’s latest Form 990, go to