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3/29/2013 12:53:00 PM
Sequestration Manifests in Midcoast With Early Closure of Head Start Programs
By Dominik Lobkowicz

The more than $85 billion in cuts for 2013 from the federal government's sequestration that took effect on March 1 has begun rearing its head locally in the form of an early closure of local Head Start programs.

Midcoast Maine Community Action's board of directors voted on March 25 to close their Head Start pre-kindergarten programs for 3 to 5 year-olds on April 25, eight days earlier than originally scheduled, according to Sue Kingsland. Kingsland is the director of child and family services for MMCA.

After the decision was made, the management team met with Head Start center and case managers on March 26 and 27, and letters went out to families the morning of March 28 informing them of the new closure date, Kingsland said.

MMCA operates the Head Start pre-kindergarten programs in Lincoln, Sagadahoc, and northern Cumberland counties. Their Lincoln County programs are in Wiscasset, Newcastle, and Waldoboro.

The early closure is an initial effort to recover $129,000 from the group's Head Start budget, which represents the 5.1 percent budget cut that most federal programs need to recover as part of sequestration, Kingsland said.

"We don't know if it's going to be a 5.1 percent cut, it may actually be less than that, that all federal programs have to recover," she said. "We've been given some discretion in how we want to [recover] that."

Closing eight days early will help save roughly 20 percent of that money and MMCA is still trying to figure out how to save the remaining 80 percent, Kingsland said. Because sequestration didn't start until March 1, the Head Start program is already two months behind in making up the difference for the year, she said.

"This was something we could do immediately to make a 20 percent cut into that funding gap, so we decided to do that," Kingsland said.

Many of the families that use the Head Start program have low income and utilize other social services as well, so they may end up being hit in several areas if other programs experience cuts," Kingsland said.

"Our families face a lot of stresses as it is; this is one more," she said. "What we've got to do is figure out how to close that funding gap and make it the least painful process that we can."

So far, parents have been incredibly gracious in handling the news of early closure and staff has been wonderful in helping them through it, Kingsland said.

"People have been incredibly understanding. I think the basic kind of spirit of it is 'Yeah, this is going to be tough but I understand and it is what it is,'" she said.

Kingsland said she wants to stress that MMCA's Head Start programs are still planned to start up on time in the fall, right after Labor Day.

A planned change to the Wiscasset Head Start program from one run entirely by MMCA to a collaborative one with Sheepscot Valley RSU 12 is still moving forward despite the budget concerns, Kingsland said.

Both the RSU 12 board and the MMCA board have approve the collaboration and they are in the process of completing the application to send to the Department of Education, she said.

The RSU 12 board approved the collaboration and a $10,000 contribution to the program at their meeting on March 14.

At that meeting, board member Richard DeVries said the RSU will be able to count each of the 32 students in the program as half a student in the district, which means they will be able to collect about $3000 in subsidy per student.

Kingsland said MMCA will not need to ask RSU 12 for more money than they already have.

"How things are going trickle down and shift out is a very good question, but we're very committed to making that collaboration go," she said.

With the early closure, MMCA case managers will start early in assisting families that normally need help in finding child care during the summer, Kingsland said.

If parents have questions or concerns, they are welcome to contact their case managers, Head Start center managers, or Sue Kingsland.

Contact Kingsland at 1-800-221-2221, Friendship Street Head Start Center (Waldoboro) at 832-4925, Salt Bay Area Head Start Center (Newcastle) at 563-1412, or Wiscasset Head Start Center at 882-7613.

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