Feeling the pinch

Published 3:50 am Friday, March 15, 2013

In the midst of an annual recruitment effort, Franklinton Head Start and other local centers are bracing for a 5 percent budget cut due to hit in June.

On March 1, a sequestration-triggered cut in federal funding went into effect for all Head Start programs. Unless there is a reversal at the federal level, the 5 percent decrease in grant funding will be felt locally on June 1, when Regina Coeli Child Development Center’s 2013-14 fiscal year begins, said Ola Magee, program coordinator. The centerwide budget will see a hit of approximately $700,000, she said.

Regina Coeli Child Development Center operates 14 Head Start and Early Head Start centers in five parishes, Washington, St. Tammany, Tangipahoa, St. Helena and Livingston. Enrollment at those centers totals 1,800, with a staff of 500.

Franklinton Head Start has 111 preschool children and 40 infant/toddlers. The staff totals 35, including 10 Early Head Start teachers, 12 Head Start teachers and teacher assistants and other personnel, said center director Mary Boulware. Additionally, eight “Foster Grandparents,” paid by Catholic Charities out of Hammond, work in the classrooms for four hours each day, she said.

Bogalusa Head Start has 111 Head Start children and 32 Early Head Start students, and eight pregnant moms are enrolled in the center’s pregnant women’s program. Through this program, the center helps ensure the moms have a healthy pregnancy. Once the child is born, he or she is placed on the Early Head Start waiting list, said Jodi Herrington, family advocate.

How exactly the budget cuts will be implemented has yet to be determined, but Magee said one thing is for certain: Quality services for children and families will be maintained. The process of meeting and planning where to make cuts has begun, she said. The Board of Directors, composed of representatives from each of the five parishes, and the Policy Council, the program’s parent committee, will be involved in the decision-making process.

“We are planning what we could possibly do in case the cut does impact us, and we know that it will,” she said.

A memo sent out by the director of the Office of Head Start states that enrollment and workforce reductions are expected, particularly for the upcoming program year. There will be no changes locally for the remainder of the current school year, Magee reiterated.

Boulware said the budget already looked to be tight before news of the sequestration, since Head Start staff knew funding would not be increased from the level it has been at for the past two years even though fuel and other costs have risen.

Head Start is a federally funded program. Magee said the only state funding the program receives is for food. Community involvement, donations and in-kind donations are an expectation of the federal grant, Boulware said.

“We get 80 percent of what it actually takes to run our center, and we need to show 20 percent community involvement,” she said.

Magee said Head Start is required to connect to the community in order to bring in the additional 20 percent.

Franklinton Head Start has an impact on the local economy, Magee said. Nearly all the staff is hired from within the community, and the center also does business with Franklinton merchants on a regular basis for various projects, she said.

The center’s educators plan their lessons according to Creative Curriculum, an “award-winning research-based curriculum,” Magee said.

“The 38 objectives are fully aligned with the Head Start framework and early learning standards for Early Head Start and pre-K,” she said.

Free comprehensive services are provided to those enrolled, including developmental screenings, nutritious meals and family support services, Magee said.

Parents come to the center once a month to play with their children during outdoor learning. They also fill out a home-to-school connection calendar monthly, Boulware said.

The home-to-school connection ensures parental involvement, as parents continue activies such as working on things such as numbers, letters or the spelling of the child’s name at home, Magee said.

In the past 10 months, Boulware said, Head Start has achieved the state of Louisiana’s Five Star rating; passed its National Association for the Education of Young Children evaluation and is, thus, reaccredited for five years; and, in February, aced its weeklong federal review.

Applications are accepted year round, but a big, annual recruitment effort for the 2013-14 program year is currently under way at the Regina Coeli centers, Boulware said.

Through collaboration with the Washington Parish School System, all children who are added to the Franklinton Head Start wait list by the end of May will be screened, so those who need services can be identified during the summer, Boulware said. The federal government, Magee said, requires that children with special needs comprise at least 10 percent of those receiving services. Each of Franklinton Head Start’s classrooms includes special needs students, Boulware added.

Parents can submit an application for their children from the ages of 6 weeks to 4 years, Boulware said. When parents call to make an appointment, they will find out what materials they should bring. Call 839-5422 for Head Start or 839-2798 for Early Head Start.

Those interested in enrolling a child in Bogalusa Head Start can call 735-5668 or 735-5669. Call 735-6590 for information about Bogalusa Early Head Start.

“We are recruiting right now for the upcoming school year,” Herrington said.