Dr. Fred Eichelman: How Doing What’s Right Can Still Get You in Trouble with the Feds
A True Story from 1965 by Dr. Fred
Recent happenings in our nation, due to horrific acts by leftist Socialists in our government, reminded me of the time I ran afoul of the Federal Government in1965.
At the time I served as a high school teacher for my school system when the superintendent came to me with a proposition. He asked me to work in the school board office with federal programs. At the time President Lyndon Johnson had instituted what was the so-called War on Poverty. That included providing financial grants to school systems for what was titled “Head Start”.
It seemed like an interesting opportunity for a rising administrator and our superintendent was not a big fan of the new program. Neither was I, but I agreed with his reasoning. School systems in Virginia were very competitive and it did not seem right that nearby school systems would get our tax dollars and we would not benefit in any way.
At the time Virginia did not have a kindergarten program so I was to design a preparatory program for the primary grades for five year-olds. My wife Carolyn taught in the primary grades so I needed a great deal of advice from her. The program would be run in the Summer and would concentrate on early childhood education.
I mapped out a program that would make use of twelve elementary schools during the Summer months with classes of no more than fifteen each. Each class would have a teacher with primary grade experience, as well as two aides. Technically I became like both a school superintendent and school board setting requirements based on what I was sent by the newly-formed Office of Economic Opportunity. I also did the hiring and all the financial work.
I arranged a budget for $250,000 which was quite an undertaking for a non-math person, as I was basically trained to be a history and government teacher. To my surprise it was accepted and an assistant superintendent liked to call me “the quarter of a million dollar baby.” In 1965 that was a lot of money.
In this program we had what we called a “poverty level” and we were to have a balance of sexes and races in each class. That seemed simple enough until the local newspapers got ahold of it. We had parents calling to say they did not want their child involved if it labeled them as “poor and without hope”, as one headline actually printed. So I found I had to be a salesman for the program, making appearances on local TV and radio shows.
The program got off to a good start though we had our rocky moments. The first was a call from the D.C. office asking how many white and how many black teachers we had. I had to check as I personally knew most of the teachers hired and I never thought in terms of black and white. The D.C. office was not happy with the time I took.
We provided lunches in each school with supervisors from Washington checking to see if we were serving nutritious meals. In fact, we had observers from Washington wanting to check almost everything, including the way teachers handled the classes. They nearly forced me to fire a most experienced lady who slapped her hands together to get attention. It became humiliating they way these non-educators were basically micro-managing us.
We ended the Summer feeling we had done a good job of preparing our children to start First Grade in the Fall. We actually received an award, a Head Start flag for the county courthouse to display that we had one of the best programs in the state.
And then trouble came.
One morning at the school board office I was greeted by two men in dark suits who came directly from the Office of Economic Opportunity. Our superintendent was with them and had a worried expression on his face. “These men say they need to audit your books because of a misapplication of funds.”
Yikes! I gladly gave them all my records and they immediately explained what was wrong. We did not need all of the $250,000 we had been granted. The program ultimately cost $175,000 so I had refunded them $75,000. Apparently that was a big mistake.
My books checked out and the one of the inspectors, a Mr. Jett, kindly advised me, “It is unwise not to use every cent you ask for from the federal government, as it is assumed you did not deliver all the promised services to those in need. Ultimately you need to spend it all and even ask for more. That is how things are done.
I learned my lesson. The next two Summers I ran the program and we spent more than every amount we were allotted and each time we were sent the extra money. Sometimes we even had to make up needs. During the third Summer we purchased tricycles for every Head Start Classroom explaining their use improved a child’s motor skills. It greatly disturbed the school board but we got the tricycles.
After our last Summer we no longer needed a Head Start program as Virginia ignited a kindergarten program in every elementary school. I was happy to return to the ranks of a classroom teacher, which I had missed. I must add that my wife became one of the state’s first kindergarten teachers.
I do have a souvenir of those years. Folded up in one of our closets is that Head Start flag awarded us for our work. Looking at how the Biden Administration is running things in our government it would seem that nothing has changed.