Janesville73°

Increased costs force proposed reductions in Head Start

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GINA R. HEINE
August 22, 2008
— Increased expenses without a matching increase in funding has forced the federal Head Start program to propose cuts in Rock and Walworth counties.

Head Start programs at Phoenix Middle School in Delavan and St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Janesville would be reduced, while the program at J.C. McKenna Middle School in Evansville would be eliminated, said Connie Robers, director of Rock-Walworth Comprehensive Family Services.


“Over the past five to seven years, our budget has been challenged by increased costs that have not been matched by increased funding,” she said. “So we are looking at needing to reduce services in order to be able to assure that we’re providing quality services.”


Head Start helps children of low-income families prepare to succeed in school. The sites targeted for reduction serve 3- and 4-year-olds, Robers said.


Head Start’s programming can change each year after an annual community assessment to determine needs and resources, she said.


“You can’t continue to do the same high quality services with less and less ability to fund them,” she said.


The proposed reductions still are awaiting federal approval.


Early Head Start programs will not be affected.


The area program changes are not unique, Robers said, because reductions are happening nationwide.


Here’s what’s planned:


-- The program in Evansville, which ran for 17 years, would be eliminated. It served kids five hours a day, four days a week from September to May. Robers said she couldn’t speculate whether the program could return in the future.


-- In Delavan, the program would be reduced by 13 kids this year.


-- At the St. Peter’s Head Start in Janesville, the program would be reduced by 13 children.


No staff members would lose their jobs because of the changes, Robers said.


“I know there are eligible children in these communities that will potentially not have a Head Start program anymore,” Robers said. “That’s very dreadful as far as I’m concerned.”


Families in Evansville have been notified of the closure, and students there will have priority at a Janesville location, she said. Head Start, however, can’t transport kids between the communities, and transportation can be a challenge for low-income families, she said.


Head Start officials and Evansville community leaders will meet soon to look for alternatives to fill the gap, she said. Evansville offers good child care options and other programming such as at the library, play groups and swim programs that can help fill the gap, she said.


Head Start runs two other programs in Janesville, three in Beloit, and several in Walworth County including in Lake Geneva, Sharon, Elkhorn and Whitewater.


TO APPLY

Connie Robers, director of Rock-Walworth Comprehensive Family Services, worries news of proposed reductions at area Head Start programs will keep families from applying. She said parents should continue to apply because spots might open during the year.


For more information, call Head Start at (608) 299-1500.



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