Sequester hits Head Start program hard

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Family advocate Fatima Garcia helps Chef Combo teach Head Start and special education preschoolers in Naugatuck that healthy food creates strong muscles last year. The borough’s Head Start program is facing about $33,000 in cuts due to the federal sequester. –RA ARCHIVE
Family advocate Fatima Garcia helps Chef Combo teach Head Start and special education preschoolers in Naugatuck that healthy food creates strong muscles last year. The borough’s Head Start program is facing about $33,000 in cuts due to the federal sequester. –RA ARCHIVE

NAUGATUCK — The borough’s Head Start program is about to fall victim to the federal sequester.

The Naugatuck Head Start program, a federally funded preschool program which serves low-income families, will be receiving approximately $33,000 less from the government in the 2013-14 fiscal year due to automatic spending cuts known as sequestration. In the borough there are 91 students enrolled in the program.

Head Start Program Director Janice Mons said the cut to the budget means that two of the classes will be cut back in hours. The first class that will be cut is a full-day class. The class, which currently runs from 7:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m., will become a four-hour class beginning June 24.

The second class, which currently runs from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m., will be cut back to run from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. beginning Aug. 26.

Four part-time teachers will also be laid off because of the cuts, two on June 24 and two on Aug. 26.

Mons said due to the cuts all proposed field trips have been removed.

Despite the loss of the class time and teachers, Mons knows that it could have been much worse.

“We’re still fortunate that, as much as we didn’t want to cut hours, we didn’t have to cut kids. We didn’t have to decrease enrollment,” Mons said. “It’s important that kids get a good quality preschool experience so they can start kindergarten on a level playing field. We can continue to offer that to 91 children.”

However, Mons knows that if any more cuts are implemented because of the sequester the program will be in serious trouble.

“My budget now is right down to the bone and it won’t be feasible to cut anymore,” Mons said.

Mon said cutting the funding to Head Start cuts into the students’ chances of beginning their school career at the same level as other students.

“Head Start enables these children to learn all school readiness skills they need to enter kindergarten,” Mons said. “Children that never had quality preschool experience, it’s obvious how far behind they are. That’s really important because you want them to start even with everybody.”

Mons said education has been accelerated for younger students and more is expected out of them than ever before.

“They’re learning in preschool what we learned in kindergarten,” Mons said.

Mons is worried the cuts will have adverse affects not just on the Head Start program, but on the people that rely on the service.

“It’s unfortunate when you look at the funding reduction across the country and how the sequester affects people. It’s the most vulnerable, at-risk population that is affected,” Mons said “It’s your elderly population, early childhood development, young children. Children and families that are very vulnerable, at or below the poverty line. It’s that population being cut.”

Mons said she had originally been told the cut to the budget would be 5 percent. However, when the cuts came, they were slightly higher than the program had been warned about.

“This is nationally, 5.27 percent across the country,” Mons said.

The cut translates to a loss of nearly $119,000 from Head Start programs throughout Litchfield County, according to Kathi Bleacher, the county’s director of Head Start and Early Head Start.

“We are looking to maintain high quality of programming, but we do expect we will have to cut services to children and families,” Bleacher said. “This is already a lean budget and there’s no place else to cut.”

While this is a difficult time for the program, Mons still feels proud of what Head Start can accomplish. However, she is still worried about the future of the program.

“We are very grateful that, in Naugatuck, we’re able to provide 91 children with a quality preschool experience and we’d hate to see that cut,” Mons said.

The Republican American contributed to this article.