Local Head Start officials said Monday they might be able to weather a short-term shutdown of the federal government, but any longer than a month or two and layoffs could become a real possibility.
The program for children ages 3-5, is operated at 15 locations in six school districts by the Butler County Educational Services Center. The agency serves 720 children in the Head Start program; 125 children in the early Head Start program; and another 136 children in Preble County. The Butler County ESC’s website described its early childhood programs as being designed to foster children’s intellectual, physical, social and emotional growth to ensure they are ready to enter kindergarten.
Suzanne Prescott, director of early childhood programs, said the first thing she did Monday was to meet with Treasurer Ken Ulm to find out how a possible shutdown of the federal government would affect the county’s program.
“This will be in the forefront of our minds as we see things played out,” Prescott said. “We won’t see a huge impact in the short term, but in the long term, we’ll need to find the money to pay our staff.”
Prescott said a government shutdown will close the program’s regional office in Chicago and local operations, such as Butler County ESC, will not be able to contact federal consultants or access any technical information. She said they are in contact with their Chicago consultants on a daily basis seeking assistance.
She said parents of children enrolled in the county’s Head Start programs have not been notified of the possibility of shutting down as a result of a possible government shutdown over the federal budget.
“We’re not at that point yet,” Prescott said. “We’re trying not to panic our families until we know how it’s going to affect us. If this will be a long shutdown, we’ll work to have a plan in place. But right now, there is no precedence for it.”
Ulm said Butler County ESC receives $5.9 million in federal funding, plus another $900,000 to operate the program in Preble County.
“All federal grants that we apply for have a clause that says, ‘If funds are available,’” he said. “We’re at the will of the government… We might have less than a month, maybe two months, if we can stretch it.”
Ulm said there are 111 employees who are involved with the Head Start programs, which includes teachers, aides, transportation aides, family services workers, cooks, nutritionists, and maintenance workers. He said there are several administrative, fiscal and human resources employees who work with Head Start and have a percentage of their salary or wages coming from the federal funding through cost allocating.
Ulm said if the government shutdown lasts longer than a month or two, Head Start staff would be laid off.
“We’ve been here before due to cuts from the sequestration,” he said.
Prescott said the sequestration cuts resulted in one classroom being closed in the Edgewood City School District.
New Miami Local Schools has a pre-school program and does not have a Head Start program. Monroe Local Schools do not have a Head Start program but operates two preschools that are funded by the district, said Superintendent Phil Cagwin. Edgewood Local Schools does not have a Head Start program, but operates a preschool that receives district and state funding, said Jeff Banks, Babeck Early Childhood Center principal.