By SALLY SEXTON
In the face of federal budget cuts, Texas Neighborhood Services has decided to reduce the number of Head Start classrooms and staff in Navarro and Palo Pinto counties.
TNS and many other agencies that receive federal funds were notified in March of federal sequestration, reducing federal spending by $1.2 trillion. TNS began looking at making across-the-board 5 percent budget cuts. Besides operating regional Head Start facilities, Weatherford-based TNS provides financial assistance programs in its service region.
On Wednesday, the TNS board of directors was given three cost-cutting options. They chose the third option, which called for cutting three Head Start classrooms (from 12 down to nine) in Navarro County and two Early Head Start classrooms (from six to four) in Palo Pinto County.
The board’s decision went Wednesday evening to its policy council, a committee of parents, which reviewed and backed the board’s decision.
“We’ve been operating under a continuing resolution because a budget hasn’t been approved for years,” TNS executive director Brad Manning said, “but with the sequestration, the cuts are going to have to come from somewhere.”
Manning said the agency will begin making the reductions during the summer, “when it won’t disturb our classes or our staff.”
Option one would have reduced two Head Start classrooms in Navarro County and one Head Start classroom each in Wise and Jack counties, as well as one Early Head Start classroom in Wise, Jack and Palo Pinto counties. Option two would have reduced three Head Start classrooms in Navarro County, one Early Head Start classroom in Palo Pinto County and one classroom in Somerville County.
TNS originally faced funding reductions of $557,688 through its Community Services Block Grant, Comprehensive Energy Assistance Program, Head Start and Early Head Start programs, but was notified that $56,147 was already removed from CEAP for a total reduction of $501,521. That means $20,000 will be taken from CSBG; $293,205 from Head Start; and $188,316 from Early Head Start.
“What we did was use a data-driven census model for each county to help us decide how and where to make the cuts,” Manning said.
He said staff cuts would be realized no matter which of three options the board and policy council agreed to.
In order to meet the remaining reductions, the board also approved a method for staff cuts, which includes educational achievement, employee performance and longevity.
“Since I’ve been here, we haven’t had budget cuts like this,” Barbara Brister, TNS Children’s Services Director, said. “But we did have periods where we had no additional funding and, since we weren’t actually having cuts, we were able to cut our hours instead of slots or positions.”
The first basis for layoff for teachers and teacher assistants will be based on educational achievement, the second basis would be individual employee performances and, in the event of a tie, the third basis will be longevity.
For non-classroom staff, the first layoff basis will be employee performances and attendance and the second would be longevity.
“We’ve already started combining some positions and eliminating others, such as combining two assistants into one and cutting the other,” Manning said.
The board also approved a motion to offer severance packages to those laid off based on the budget available.
Early Head Start, available for expectant mothers through children 3 years old, currently serves 294 clients, with funding – including training and technical assistance – at $3.7 million, or $57.19 per day per child. Head Start, for ages 3 and 4, serves 891 kids, with a funding amount of $5.8 million, or $39.65 per day per child.
The current fiscal year expires Sept. 30, meaning the cuts won’t take affect until the next school year.
“Children attending Head Start and Early Head Start during the 2013-14 school year will not be impacted,” Manning said.