Federal budget cuts force staff reduction, fewer student slots

Published 11:45 pm Saturday, July 20, 2013

Federal budget cuts have impacted staff positions and reduced the number of slots available for children at local Head Start Centers.

Sequestration caused a 5.27 percent budget cut programwide for Regina Coeli Child Development Center, which operates 14 Head Start and Early Head Start centers in Southeast Louisiana. Expenses for Head Start and Early Head Start for the 2013-14 program year had to be reduced by $695,730.

At Franklinton Head Start, Center Director Mary Stewart Boulware had to reduce personnel by two teachers, two assistants, a support staff person and a food service person. She was also slated to add two Early Head Start teachers, with the slots coming from St. Tammany Parish, but that did not happen due to the cuts, she said.

Boulware said it was difficult to eliminate those jobs. One of the teachers let go had a master’s degree and 16 years of experience, she said.

Franklinton lost three classes, including the two Early Head Start classes that were due to be added, Boulware said. Thus, the center will be serving 34 fewer preschool children and eight less Early Head Start Children.

Returning children did not lose their spots, but fewer from the wait list will be able to attend, Boulware said. She took in 108 preschool children last year, but this year she will be taking in 68, she said.

One classroom was closed at Bogalusa Head Start, eliminating one teacher position and one assistant position. That classroom would have served 20 children.

Sequestration is a budget-cutting agreement reached by Congress and the White House in early 2012 that took effect Dec. 31 of that year, as explained in the Regina Coeli sequestration plan. The center’s new budget year begins June 1, and the board of directors began planning in March what they would do if the cut was final, she said.

Some centers lost busses, but Boulware said that service is still in place for now at Franklinton Head Start. At the main office in Robert, some positions went from 12 months to 10 months, and funding was reduced for things like field trips and parent activities, she said.

The regular staff, including teachers custodians, cooks and bus drivers, will be furloughed for six days during 2013-14, and the administrative staff will be furloughed for nine days, Boulware said.

“Everybody is doing their part, because we believe in Head Start,” she said. “It is a wonderful program. I just wish the people in the office would come by more and see what’s going on.”