Local Head Start program faces cuts due to sequester

Friday March 8, 2013

BRATTLEBORO -- President Obama had dinner with Senate leaders Wednesday to try to find a solution to the sequester which forced $85 billion in cuts to programs across the country.

And on the same day, in Brattleboro, Early Education Services Executive Director Deb Gass told the Brattleboro School Board that those cuts are going to have very real effects on Windham County's youngest residents.

Gass, who directs the federal Head Start program in Windham County, told the board that she is facing an immediate $125,000 reduction in funding due to the sequestration, which went into effect on March 1 after the president and Congress were unable to come to an agreement on federal spending and deficit reduction.

"We're facing a 5 percent cut across the board," Gass told the School Board. "These are the most dramatic and draconian cuts I have seen in 37 years of working with the Head Start program."

Head Start is a federal program that supports young children from low income families. Head Start classrooms offer educational programs along with nutrition and other support services.

Gass took part in a national conference call with Head Start officials last week, and she has plans to sit in on another one Friday.

The national Head Start office is trying to give local directors like Gass some guidance as the funding cuts begin to go into effect.

There are still a lot of questions about the cuts, but Gass said the message from Washington was clear that local Head Start programs are going to have to begin making plans to reduce services for families and children in the federal program.

According to Gass the national officials are saying that local directors can not sacrifice quality as they try to figure out how to maintain service with less money.

Staffing levels must be maintained so Gass said things like transportation, nutrition programs or support services for the families and children will have to be reduced.

"The reality is that these cuts are going to affect services and staffing," said Gass. "If we don't have transportation families are going to have a hard time getting their kids to school. Anything we do is going to compromise quality."

The Brattleboro School District is the grantee for the federal Head Start money, and Gass helps run programs at the Canal Street School, at Birge Nest and in Westminster at the SEVCA building on Buck Drive.

The district also works with West Brattleboro Nursery School and Brattleboro Nursery School, the infant toddler program at Brattleboro Union High School, and it does home visits with pregnant women and infant toddlers.

The Brattleboro School District has 225 slots for low income pre-school children in the region.

"The impact of these cuts is going to monumental," Gass said. "It is not just cognitive academic programs we offer. We support families and for some kids the only meals they get are the ones we provide. We don't yet know how we are going to deal with this, but we're going to have to come up with a game plan very soon. Five percent is big bite. This is real money and we're going to have to figure out how we're going to address this."

Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at hwtisman@reformer.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 279. You can follow him on Twitter @HowardReformer.


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