Washington County Head Start program dwindles after sequestration budget cuts

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Staff Writer

WASHINGTON COUNTY, N.Y. -- After the federal sequestration resulted in a 5.2 percent budget cut to Head Start and Early Head Start programs in Washington County, families have been left wondering what may come next for their children and Head Start employees have been left scrambling to reformulate programs.

Head Start programming serves economically disadvantaged children from all parts of Washington County. During the July 1, 2012 through June 30, 2013 program year, Washington County Head Start provided services to 455 local children.

As a result of the $200,000 cut, the Head Start center in Cambridge has been closed and the annual six-week summer program has been cancelled.

Following the cuts, Lewis Steele, a concerned Washington County resident, wrote letters to the editor to several local papers and attended many community meetings in support of the Head Start and Early Head Start programs.

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"Head Start provides an incredibly valuable service to economically disadvantaged pre-school youngsters," said Steele. "As a result of these services, children in our county have been provided with very positive pre-school experiences and are able to more effectively transition into kindergarten and elementary school."

Jennifer Burkey, director of Washington County’s Head Start, is extremely concerned about the state of local Head Start programs.

"Head Start provides such important services to the community," she said. "It’s just so sad to see these cuts when we know our children are benefiting so much from the programs."

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According to Burkey, the Head Start summer program was vital to many of the families in the community, the majority of which rely on the program as their primary form of childcare.

"I’m afraid this could impact other social services," said Burkey. "We know there are families that won’t be working now because they have to take care of their children. It will only add to the unemployment rate."

After families learned of the cuts and how Head Start would be affected, employees held workshops for families, explaining childcare alternatives and other programs in the community that families could utilize in lieu of Head Start, including the Southern Adirondack Childcare Network, the Lunch and Learn program in Salem, N.Y., day camps at the Glens Falls YMCA, and children’s programs at the local libraries.

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According to Burkey, there is a possibility for even deeper cuts next year. Future cuts could result in reduced student enrollment, closing even more centers, reducing supportive services and terminating more Head Start employees.

"We’re very concerned for what more cuts could mean for our staff, the families in the community and of course, our children," said Burkey.

Tammy DeLorme, commissioner of Social Services in Washington County, is also concerned about the future of Head Start but is optimistic that the abbreviated programs will benefit the community just as well as in past years.

"I think the Washington County EOC came through with the best plan possible," said DeLorme. "With such short notice it was definitely a challenge but we also had great support from the community. I’m hopeful for the future."

To learn more about Washington County’s Head Start program, visit www.washcohs.org.

Contact Elizabeth Conkey at econkey@benningtonbanner.com. Follow her on Twitter @bethconkey.


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