Sunday, February 25, 2018
News Roundup

Head Start staffers will forgo retirement money to maintain services

The burden of federal budget cuts known as the sequester will fall on local Head Start staffers, but not the families the program serves.

For this year, anyway.

Directed to slice 5 percent from the budget of its preschool education program in Hernando, Sumter and Volusia counties, Mid-Florida Community Services will stop contributing to the retirement funds of its 225 Head Start employees as of the first pay period in April, said Head Start director Heidi Rand. The measure will continue through the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30.

Rand made the decision with input from employees, 85 of whom work in Hernando.

"We are doing our darnedest not to affect our (client) families," Rand said. "With the retirement plan cut completely out, we were able to save enough dollars so it didn't affect services, and that was our goal."

Head Start provides preschool, child care and other services for children from low-income families, as well as for disabled children from families of all incomes. The sequestration order signed by President Barack Obama on March 1 cut $406 million, or about 5 percent, from the program's budget. Local directors were given the discretion to choose how to implement the cuts at their respective programs.

For Mid-Florida, that means a loss of $455,000 to the program, which serves about 975 children in the three counties. Of those, 282 are enrolled at two sites in Brooksville and Spring Hill.

Stopping retirement contributions will cover almost half of the shortfall.

Rand considered cutting full-time employees to 35 hours a week, with three of those hours lost by closing the program early on Fridays. But that would have hurt client families, Rand said, and Head Start staffers said they would rather lose retirement money than take-home pay.

"So many of them are living paycheck to paycheck, they see it as the lesser of two evils," she said.

To help cover the rest of the deficit, Rand is eliminating staff training and reducing contracted cleaning service from three days a week to two. Employees will have to pick up the slack.

"We couldn't do much with things like utilities and rents, but everything we could possibly cut, we are," she said.

Though painful, the effects could be much worse.

Head Start programs across the country are taking more agonizing steps, such as closing early for the summer, dropping children from the rolls and laying off teachers. All told, the Office of Head Start has projected that 70,000 fewer children nationwide will be served by the program due to sequestration.

Cutting enrollment would have had little effect locally because Mid-Florida is already halfway through its grant year, Rand said. The large majority of the expenses associated with serving children are paid at the beginning of the year.

"We've already paid for their health screenings, their oral screenings and all of the upfront costs of running the program for the school year," Rand said. "That is the reason we have to look to our staff and our benefits and any other costs that have not been incurred completely."

The local effect will be more profound if Congress does not restore funding levels for the next fiscal year.

Though no children who currently are enrolled would be kicked out, the number accepted for next year would drop by about 50 and cause the current wait list of 425 to grow, Rand said. Seven full-time positions — three teachers, three assistants and a family advocate — would be eliminated. Rand said she is hopeful those reductions could be achieved through attrition, not layoffs.

As a former Head Start parent who now helps run the program, Elizabeth Hustead has perspective from both sides.

Hustead's two sons attended Head Start. Now, the 36-year-old single mother is the family and community partnership manager for the Hernando and Sumter locations.

Cutting service to half a day on Friday would have meant lost education time and healthy snacks for children, Hustead said. And it would have been painful for working parents who already struggle to find child care each day after the program's 2 p.m. end time.

"When that couple of hours turns into four or five hours, that's when it becomes really difficult for our families," Hustead said. "Just take our retirement so we have money in our paychecks and our families don't lose out."

To have to make such decisions is galling because it's a result of dysfunction in Washington, Hustead said. She wondered how many members of Congress have spoken to a family who has benefited from Head Start, and why they can't put their differences aside for the sake of their constituents.

"They're cutting the programs for the people who need it the most," she said, "yet they kept their pay the same."

Reach Tony Marrero at [email protected] or (352) 848-1431. Follow @tmarrerotimes and @hernandotimes.

Comments

One man stabbed to death during Saturday incident in Plant City

PLANT CITY — A man stabbed another man to death Saturday night, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.The two men, neither of whom were identified, got into "an altercation," deputies said, about 10:15 p.m. at 4308 James L Redman Park...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Police: Man, 60, arrested for fleeing from fatal Largo pedestrian crash

Police: Man, 60, arrested for fleeing from fatal Largo pedestrian crash

LARGO — A 60-year-old man who police said was the driver in a fatal pedestrian hit-and-run on East Bay Drive from three days prior was arrested by Largo Police on Saturday, the department said.Victor Bonavita was arrested on three charges in relation...
Published: 02/24/18
Sheriff: Roads reopen after Tampa crash results in natural gas leak near Citrus Park Mall

Sheriff: Roads reopen after Tampa crash results in natural gas leak near Citrus Park Mall

TAMPA — Officials reopened roads near Citrus Park Mall Saturday evening that had been closed in the afternoon for a natural gas leak caused by a car crash, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office said. The Sheriff’s Office and Hillsborough County Fi...
Published: 02/24/18

boca ratonState lawmakerencourages Scott to remove sheriffA lawmaker is calling on Florida Gov. Rick Scott to remove Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel from office after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. In a letter sent to ...
Published: 02/24/18

Two airlinescut ties withNRA aftershootings

The National Rifle Association lashed out at corporations rushing to abandon it on Saturday, as companies from United Airlines to Best Western have cut ties with the gun lobby organization.Without context, twin announcements from Delta and United air...
Published: 02/24/18

‘Up to States’ to armteachers, Trump tweets

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump appeared Saturday to begin refining his proposals for combatting school violence, tweeting that arming teachers as a deterrent against such often deadly violence — an idea he championed in recent days — is "Up to S...
Published: 02/24/18
Security Council demands30-day cease-fire in Syria

Security Council demands30-day cease-fire in Syria

UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. Security Council unanimously approved a resolution Saturday demanding a 30-day cease-fire across Syria "without delay" to deliver humanitarian aid to millions and evacuate the critically ill and wounded. U.N. humanitarian ch...
Published: 02/24/18

Published: 02/24/18
Call her more than just a survivor

Call her more than just a survivor

TAMPA — On the quiet morning of Oct. 8, 2011, a 30-ton freight truck ran a stop sign in the small town of Clinton, Conn.It ran over Colleen Kelly Alexander, who was riding a bicycle.The truck's front wheels crushed her, then spit her to the bac...
Published: 02/24/18
Police: Male motorcyclist crashed, then the driver was run over by two cars

Police: Male motorcyclist crashed, then the driver was run over by two cars

TAMPA — A male motorcyclist died early Saturday morning on the Courtney Campbell Causeway, the Tampa Police Department said.About 1:35 a.m., the victim rode his motorcycle west on the Courtney Campbell at high speeds, police said. The motorcycle stru...
Published: 02/24/18