Frederick Head Start parents speak out against funding cut
Federal contractor tells parents the program will continue with as little disruption as possible
Parents packed into a Head Start classroom Thursday night to hear firsthand how the Frederick Board of County Commissioners' decision this week to pull $2.3 million from the program will impact their children.
Representatives from Community Development Institute of Denver, the federal government contractor that on March 1 will take over the interim management of Head Start, attempted to assure parents that the program will continue with as little disruption as possible.
"Our goal is that they won't be out of school a single day," said Mark Elliott, a program support specialist with Community Development Institute. "Right now, we're hopeful there won't be any delays and any days without Head Start children."
But for parents, many of whom could not speak English, reassurances from Elliott were not enough. Even though parents received a letter from the county explaining the commissioners' decision, they were still confused and angry.
"Our children are our future," said Daima Lewis of Frederick, a parent of a 4-year old son in Head Start.
Lewis also blamed parents for not voting for other commissioner candidates in November, like she said she did. "This is why we're supposed to vote," she said. "I really hope everybody cast a ballot. If everybody voted, this would not have happened."
Henry D. Ramos of Frederick, a Head Start volunteer and parent of a 6-year-old son who recently graduated from the program, spoke for the parents who could not speak English and were unable to express their concerns.
"These people are about to lose a very good program in the middle of the [school] year," Ramos said. "I understand [Elliott is] not the bad guy, but these folks need to know what your commitment is to our families. What is your commitment to our families? They have a right to know."
Elliott said repeatedly that the goal is to keep Head Start services until a new organization takes over.
"We recognize this is an emotional thing, and there are a lot of concerns," he said. "Our goal is to make sure there is no disruption of services. We're in the process of working through the transition and we're hopeful there won't be any delay in services. We're doing everything we can."
Commissioners on Tuesday voted 4-1 to pull $2.3 million in county funding from the Head Start program as of March 1.
Commissioner David P. Gray (R) was the lone vote against the move, arguing that his colleagues were making a rash decision.
But Gray's colleagues, Commissioners' President Blaine R. Young (R) and commissioners Billy Shreve (R), Kirby Delauter (R) and C. Paul Smith (R) said they need the county's share of the money to put toward a $12 million projected deficit for the county's projected $440 million fiscal 2012 budget.
It costs $4.4 million to run Head Start in Frederick County. The county's portion is $2.3 million. Another $2.1 million comes from the federal government.
Head Start is designed to serve children ages 3 and 4 in families that fall below the federal poverty line: $22,050 in salary for a family of four. The program serves nearly 280 students annually throughout the county and has existed for 39 years.
Elliott told parents that his company has the experience to run Head Start, and will do so for "as long as it takes to find a permanent [subcontractor]," he said.
Elliott told parents that over the last 10 years, Community Development Institute has worked with Head Start programs in 130 communities in 40 states.
But he also warned parents that without the county funding, he is unsure if all the services Head Start provides will be available when it takes over.
"We just arrived this week," he said. "We're still trying to gather information. We know there will be a lot of questions. We're still trying to figure things out. The money we have to run the program is the federal grant. We're still looking at the budget and at ways we can continue the program, realizing there may be some changes on how we structure the program."
Elliott said the company will host a job fair on Feb. 18 and 19 for Head Start teachers only and it is their goal to hire as many as possible.
He also gave a phone number 1-866-684-6080 that parents can call for regular updates on how the transition is going.
Meanwhile, there was plenty of advice for parents.
"We as parents also have to take the initiative to be involved," said parent John Chancy. "I've been very involved with this program. I'm a single father of two children and I've been involved."
Henry Ramos and his wife, Connie, are volunteers in the Head Start classrooms at Hillcrest Elementary School in Frederick. The couple says even under new management, they will continue to volunteer.
"I believe in the program," Connie Ramos said. "It has made a huge difference in my son. He is now in kindergarten and he knows how to spell his first name and keeps moving up in reading. It's done so much."
Meanwhile, parents made no comments about statements made by Delauter and Smith Tuesday that the best way Head Start parents can help their children succeed in life is to stay married and stay home with their children.
After the meeting, Ramos said he was offended by their comments. "My wife is a stay-at-home mom, but I would never make her stay home," said Ramos, who called the comments sexist. "That is so backwards.