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Head Start bracing for cuts

Head Start
Mar. 05, 2013 @ 10:50 PM

HUNTINGTON -- Head Start services provided in Cabell, Wayne, Lincoln and Mason counties through Southwest Community Action Council are at risk of declining after May 1 because of the government budget cuts that took effect this month.

That was the assessment from Head Start Director Donna Taylor on Tuesday, after spending most of Monday in meetings to try to determine how a 5 percent across-the-board cut would impact employees, children and families.

"More than likely (cuts will) reduce staff and probably children," Taylor said. "Definitely reduce supplies and materials and limit travel and training."

She said the Head Start budget for all four counties is nearly $7 million, so the cut will be between $325,000 and $350,000 for the program's new budget year, which begins May 1.

That means, Taylor said, figuring out how to finish out the final month of the school year for the 4-year-olds in Pre-K and finish out the program year through the end of June for the 3-year-old children.

Head Start has a separate training budget that also will be slashed by 5 percent, she said.

Currently, Head Start serves 810 children in those four counties, all from families who meet federal income guidelines. Head Start has a home-based program and services for pregnant women. It also serves 16 families at the Lakin Correctional Center in Mason County.

Taylor said the broad offerings of Head Start portray how the federal sequestration will impact children and adults. For example, if the program has to reduce the number of children served -- which is entirely possible because of a teacher-child ratio that would be affected with classroom staffing cuts -- that also means a family that is already trying to make ends meet may not be able to find affordable childcare so they can work.

"I'm not sure everyone understands the sequester or is aware of the cuts to other agencies and the effect it has on the economy," Taylor said.

"We have to look at the budget and see what we can do," she continued.

Staffing is an issue on two levels, Taylor said. Those without degrees start at $8.28 an hour, but work in positions that would be difficult to cut, such as cooks. In the classroom, she said many teachers have either associate or bachelor's degrees. She said asking them to take a pay cut could make the situation worse by forcing some to leave for other jobs.

Also an issue in Lincoln and Mason counties, along with rural areas of Wayne County, is the lack of child care providers. Without Head Start, Taylor said families have very limited options.

Head Start, Taylor said, serves the total family, a social service aspect that could leave some caseworkers with additional workloads.

"We don't want people to panic," Taylor said. "We will work through it and do the best we can to make sure families receive quality care."

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