Budget cuts eliminate some Head Start spots for children


Byron, 4, Kiana, 4, and Desmond, 4, left to right, say the Pledge of Allegiance together in a Head Start classroom at Childhood Development Services on Northeast 25th Avenue in Ocala in this Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2012 file photo. CDS is slated to get $82,000 from United Way this year.

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Published: Monday, August 26, 2013 at 1:23 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, August 26, 2013 at 1:23 p.m.

Budget cuts related to the federal sequester have hurt the local Head Start and Early Head Start programs much more than originally thought.

In this region — Marion, Alachua, Citrus, Dixie, Gilchrist and Levy counties — Head Start and Early Head Start lost a total of 154 spots for students: 110 in Head Start, which serves children ages 3, 4 and 5; and 44 in Early Head Start, which serves infants up to age 3.

Some Head Start children ages 4 and 5 are eligible for pre-K, and placements are being sought.

One Early Head Start site in Alachua County, was closed and the classroom moved to Marion County.

Two Head Start classrooms, at Stanton-Weirsdale Elementary and Fort McCoy School, were closed.

The programs also lost a combined 33 staff positions.

Of those, eight were vacant. Of the 25 employees cut loose, all but one was given a job in another program operated by Childhood Development Services, which runs Head Start and Early Head Start here.

Local leaders believed they could absorb a 5.27 percent budget cut — $716,329 in all — by leaving open positions unfilled, restructuring the organization, and ramping up efforts to get donations and in-kind services.

No student positions would be cut. No existing staff would be released.

But federal overseers — the programs are federal in nature, even though they are administered locally — rejected that plan and insisted on a tougher one.

Hence the new reality when the programs started the 2013-14 school year on Aug. 19.

Early Head Start and Head Start are designed to get kids, most of them from low-income homes, ready for a lifetime of learning. This is accomplished not just by teaching in the classroom but also by building skills and attending to home needs — all of which affect a child's ability to learn and get ready for school.

Earlier this year, when Congress and the White House couldn't agree on federal deficit reduction, $85 billion in automatic budget cuts kicked in on March 1.

That included a $400 million cut to Head Start, Early Head Start and Migrant/Seasonal Head Start, according to the National Head Start Association.

Nationwide, Head Start will be able to accommodate 5.4 percent fewer students this year than it could during 2011-12. For Early Head Start it's 3.5 percent, the association said.

More than 18,000 employees have lost pay or lost their jobs altogether.

Contact Jim Ross at 671-6412 or jim.ross@ocala.com. Follow him on Twitter @jimross96.

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