Head Start losing 55 slots in two counties

Posted Sept. 03, 2013, at 5:50 a.m.
Last modified Sept. 03, 2013, at 7:15 p.m.

PARIS, Maine — About 55 youngsters in Oxford and Franklin counties won’t be headed off to Head Start this fall.

Federal spending cuts have resulted in the closure of a Head Start classroom in Jay and cuts in staff and hours throughout both counties.

A total of 55 slots will not be filled by the approximately 150 children waiting to be enrolled, Heath Ouellette, director of children’s services at Community Concepts, said. Additionally, some hours will be cut and 12 staff members, including two slots that were vacant, will be cut.

One classroom was closed in RSU 73 in Jay. Ouellette said Community Concepts is still providing services at the Jay Early Learning Center.

Slots were reduced at many of Community Concepts’ other Early Learning Centers. There was also a reduction in the number of days services are provided.

Head Start is a comprehensive program, funded by federal and state dollars, for children from birth to age 5 and expectant families. Its purpose is to nurture future success for children and families by providing education, support and resources.

Community Concepts supervises the Head Start program in both counties, using mostly federal funds with some state money.

While the cuts are substantial, Ouellette said they will continue their Head Start partnerships this fall with SAD 17, SAD 72 in Fryeburg; RSU 9 at the Cape Cod Hill Elementary School in New Sharon and at privately-owned facilities in the two counties.

At Paris Elementary School, which piloted the successful Head Start program for SAD 17 , Principal Jane Fahey said she believes the district program is down at least three staff members this year.

The good news is that services for the 493 children, from infants to 4-year-olds, in Head Start and Early Head Start who are already enrolled will not be affected, Ouellette said.

Thirty-six 4-year-olds in SAD 17 are set to begin their Head Start program on Sept. 9.

In Oxford and Franklin counties, the Paris-based Community Concepts has developed partnerships with public schools and provided private early learning centers to serve the needs of children.

Ouellette said Community Concepts’ funding had a 5.7 percent, or $256,164, reduction due to the federal sequester. Ouellette said that left them with a budget of $4,604,636 in federal funds beginning Aug. 1. That number is down from the 2012 federal award of $4,860,800.

That amount does not include training and technical assistance funds Community Concepts receives to support professional development for employees, Ouellette said.

“It was our priority to not dis-enroll children. We did this by not filling slots as children aged out of the program,” he said. The number of slots has gone from 493 last year to 438 this year.

“It was also one of our priorities to remain in all the communities we currently serve,” he said.

“Throughout these reductions, we made every effort to continue providing high quality early learning opportunities, as well as family support. Our main focus continues to be on ensuring all children are ready for school,” Ouellette said.

He said the federal funding cuts came on the heels of very little funding increases since 2000. In 2006, Community Concepts received a 1 percent cut. In 2011, Community Concepts was flat funded and in 2012 they received a .72 percent increase.

“It’s detrimental to lose kids knowing we’re only serving 30 percent of the eligible children,” Ouellette said. “Obviously, some families may feel that Head Start is not what they’re looking for, but we all have a large wait list.”

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