Cuts force closure of Herlong Head Start in May
March 26, 2013 — Twenty Herlong preschoolers are about to lose their only affordable preschool. As of May 22, Herlong’s Head Start center will close its doors due to sequestration cuts.
In an email correspondence, Brenda Poteete, executive director of Sierra-Cascade Family Opportunities, the agency that administers the local Head Start, wrote sequestration cuts amount to more than $406 million nationwide from Head Start and Early Head Start programs.
“That means, within the year, about 70,000 children and families nationwide would lose their Head Start and Early Head Start experience,” she wrote. “And about 14,000 staff would be let go — including approximately 8,200 children from Head Start in California. In Lassen County it will mean 20 fewer children will receive Head Start services.”
While the closing of Herlong’s Head Start may be miniscule in light of sequestration cuts nationwide, for the children and parents directly affected, it’s huge.
For many, the issue isn’t the childcare they’ll be losing, but the chance for their children to socialize.
Kori Sherman, the parent of a Head Start child, said, “There’s nowhere else for them to meet and play with other kids. We don’t have sports in Herlong. We don’t even have a park. It’s not fair.”
The Head Start program began in the mid-1960s as part of President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty.
It’s under the Department of Health and Human Services, and according to the Head Start website, the program “Was designed to help break the cycle of poverty, providing preschool children of low-income families with a comprehensive program to meet their emotional, social, health, nutritional and psychological needs.”
Poteet said it was a “tough decision” to close the Herlong Head Start Center. Each year Head Start Centers must do a community assessment, and for the Herlong one, it was determined there were 27 eligible children for 20 available slots.
“Keeping in mind that not all families want their children in a center-based program,” said Poteet, “and that Head Start regulations require a sufficient wait list be maintained. Twenty-seven eligible children do not support continued services in Herlong at this time of huge budget cuts.”
There’s not a lot of comfort in numbers for affected Herlong families, however.
Bill and Anita Hulsey have a grandchild who would have attended the center next year.
Anita said, “Herlong doesn't have much, but what little we have we would like to keep. Our Head Start program is wonderful. As a grandparent to two students who will go into kindergarten and a 3-year-old grandchild who would have attended the center next year, I find myself asking why, why take something that would help the children and families of Herlong? We are a small community and there are very little left out here, but the children should not have to suffer. These children are our future. As grandparents, parents and people of the community we need to get involved. These are our grandchildren, nieces, nephews and our children. They all deserve the best.”
As compensation, next year Sierra Cascade Home Opportunities will offer a home-based program for 12 eligible children to provide appropriate skill-building activities.
Some parents feel the home-based program will not give the children enough socialization. They are also afraid of losing some of the services the center currently offers such as speech therapy.
Their main concern, however, remains the loss of Herlong’s only state-funded preschool.
There is a childcare center on the Sierra Depot Army Base, but Sherman said, “It’s expensive and a parent has to work on the base to receive services.”
Poteet said other services in the area available to preschool age children in the community include the Long Valley Charter School preschool, which primarily serves children with special needs but takes typically developing children as well and a transitional kindergarten with the Fort Sage School District.
For low-income parents, who are often facing other issues, losing the neighborhood center is significant.
Family services worker Jody Kiar said while she understands budget cuts need to be made everywhere, “This is a big letdown for our parents. Our families are so affected because there is nothing else here. Our kids have nothing else. Our families have nothing else. It’s such a big part of their lives.”
Herlong families may be currently devastated by the imminent closure; yet, they are already making plans for how to best meet the challenge. Kiar said she’s hoping someone will take the initiative and start a co-op.
Poteet felt the most important part of the story is that the closure is caused by sequestration and people need to hold their elected officials and the White House accountable for the closures.
“Our hands are tied,” she wrote, “and we had to make the best decision we could. It has been extremely difficult. It was a very hard decision but with such a huge cut we knew it would, unfortunately, mean losing services to children and families.”
Poteet said they are hopeful preschool services will eventually return to Herlong, through increased Head Start or state funding.
To voice concerns about sequestration cuts to Head Start, contact Congressman Doug LaMalfa at lamalfa.house.gov/contact. He can also be reached by mail in Washington, D. C. at 506 Cannon House Office Building; Washington, DC 20515 or at the Oroville District Office; 1453 Downer Street; Suite A; Oroville, CA 95965.
Phone calls will be received at (202)225-3076 (Washington, D.C.) or 534-7100 (Oroville).
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