West Bethel Head Start hours to be cut back
A cut in federal and state funding for next year will mean fewer hours for some youngsters and staff at the West Bethel Children's Center.
The center, which has served area families for the past 35 years, has a current enrollment of 40 children. Twenty-one of them are in the Early Head Start program (infants to 3 years old), while 19 are in the Head Start preschool program (ages 3 and 4).
The preschool program youngsters currently spend 4.5 hours each weekday at the center. Next year, the hours will drop to 3.5.
Community Concepts oversees the Head Start and Early Start programs in Oxford and Franklin counties. Children's Services Director Deborah Florenz said one staff member in West Bethel left this school year and will not be replaced. The remaining seven staffers will have their hours reduced by about two a week, she said.
Parents have been notified of the changes, said Florenz.
The Oxford and Franklin county programs will be flat-funded by the federal government next year, she said, while funding from the state will be flat or less than this year.
The biggest impact will be felt in the loss of Medicaid funding for health-related activities, she said. The center has received such funding for the past dozen years, but next year will no longer be eligible.
"This is a very difficult time for all of us across Maine who work with children and families in Head Start Programs," Florenz said in a May 3 press release. "We know these changes will have real impact on people and we are prepared to work with them individually to create a plan for next year. Managers and supervisors will be meeting with the individual staff members and parents who will be directly affected by the changes. Ultimately, I am hopeful that the new plan preserves the integrity of our program, minimizes the loss of services to children and families, and positions us for future growth when funding is restored."
This year, the combined programs n the two counties serve 526 children and their families in 28 different locations including centers, homes, and in partnerships with several public schools, the release said. "As a result of the declining revenues, plans are being made to eliminate 8 staff positions, freeze hiring on two known vacancies, reduce staff and some program hours and close the Gail Ouellette Center located in Farmington. These and other program modifications will result in the elimination of 10 Head Start slots and 5 Early Head Start slots for children. Since many children move on to kindergarten each year, Head Start leaders expect to provide alternative placements for the displaced slots, thus ensuring participation for all children who wish to return to the program in the fall."