Sequester forcing adjustments for Head Start

By ALEXANDRA SONDEEN
Herald Staff Writer

Tri-Cap, the local community action agency based in Jasper, is having to make some adjustments to its Head Start program following federal funding cuts related to the sequester.

According to Cheryl Miller, the executive director of the Indiana Head Start Association, hundreds of slots across the Hoosier State are being cut from the preschool program. Locally, Tri-Cap is eliminating five slots in its three-county service area.

“Our goal has always been to serve the maximum number of children we can,” Executive Director Joyce Fleck said. “We don’t want to cut slots, and we’ve done everything we can not to.”

This year, the program will serve 188 children in Dubois, Pike and Warrick counties, with 51 of them in Dubois County.

Fleck said Tri-Cap already has trimmed back everything else to avoid eliminating slots for a program that has a waiting list.

“You just can’t cut certain things out because of the regulations with this program,” she said. “I don’t know what else we could cut.”

Aside from decreasing the number of slots, another change is being instituted for the first time. To help offset the effects of the sequester, Tri-Cap is charging fees for those families that use the full-day program.

“I hate that we have to charge,” Fleck said. “Everybody is making tough decisions and we’re no different. We weren’t ever intending to do that until the sequester hit.”

Donna Sturgeon, the local Head Start director, said the preschool program in Tri-Cap’s three full-day classrooms is being trimmed from nine or 10 hours a day to six. The fees families will pay this year will not go toward the preschool portion of the day, but toward the times before and after that are day care hours.

“We looked back over the last two years to see about what time parents were picking kids up in the full-day program,” she said. “A lot of parents were picking them up earlier and didn’t need the full nine or 10 hours.”

Fleck said Tri-Cap has been meeting with parents about the change and they have generally been understanding of the situation.

“It’s still a better deal than any other licensed day care would be charging,” she said. “And families that are eligible for Head Start should be eligible for child care vouchers as well, so that will help them pay the fee.”

One of possible alternatives to charging fees was to eliminate transportation, which both Fleck and Strugeon said is not a viable option in rural areas.

“We need the attendance numbers for the grant, and the bus helps assure that,” Fleck said. “In Dubois County, we’re bringing kids in from all over the county, not just from Jasper. It is not cheap to run a bus.”

Sturgeon said some staff and students have been shifted slightly to remain in compliance with the required adult-child ratio.

“I just feel lucky that we didn’t have to make any staff cuts as well,” she said.

Fleck said that “now more than ever,” Tri-Cap needs the community’s support. The more local support Head Start gets, the more grant funding the program can receive.

“Anything will help,” Fleck said. “Monetary donations can always be used, and in-kind donations and volunteers really help too. And school supplies are always needed.”

To help, visit www.tri-cap.net/how-you-can-help/ or call the Jasper office at 482-2233.

Contact Alexandra Sondeen at asondeen@dcherald.com.




More on DuboisCountyHerald.com