BY JAMES HARPER
Parents living in Daytona Beach’s Midtown who had hoped to send their children to the Head Start center on Henry Butts Drive no longer have that option.
The East Volusia II Head Start center no longer exists at that location this school year because of the federal budget reductions known as sequestration, said Heidi Rand, Head Start director for Mid Florida Community Services, which oversees the programs in Volusia, Sumter and Hernando counties.
In the Greater Daytona Beach area last year, there were three centers – the East Volusia Education Center on Keech Street, East Volusia II, which was on Henry Butts Drive, and the Head Start class at Turie T. Small Elementary. Ninety-five percent of the children who attend the centers were African-African, Rand said.
“We know the need is here. We need to let our legislators know,” she continued.
Nationwide, Head Start, the federal pre-K education service for low-income families, eliminated services for more than 57,000 children in the coming school year as a result of sequestration.
The decision to stop the Head Start class on Henry Butts Drive came as a shock to Daytona Beach Leisure Services Director Percy Williamson. The city rented the facility to Mid Florida Community Services for the class.
“I am disappointed and worried how this will impact families in that community. Head Start is necessary for children’s early foundation. It’s important to have Head Start located where it is most needed,” Williamson said, adding that the city will be looking for a new tenant for the facility. He hopes the client will be one that caters to young people.
Two other Head Start locations still exist in the area – at Turie T. Small Elementary and on Keech Street.
Head Start is a place where children can stay from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. compared to Volusia County’s VPK program, which is only three hours a weekday.
There was a class at the Butts Street location with 17 to 20 students from 3 to 5 years old that lasted from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Parents had the option of keeping their children at the location until 5 p.m. if they were working or in school.
Rand said that if there was funding, she would want the Head Start class at another site.
She added that her “preference would be to open at a site with multiple classrooms,” Rand said, noting that in DeLand the wait list is over 100.
No job loss
No jobs were lost in the closing of the center because staff there had agreed to a six-month hiatus of contributions to their retirement plans.
Rand said they also could have decided on a shorter school year or fewer days during the week for classes to make up for loss of funding.
She added that 53 slots for children were eliminated. In Volusia County, the decision was made to eliminate the classes at the Henry Butts Drive location and a class at the Chisholm Head Start Center in New Smyrna Beach.
Rand said before the sequestration the program had funding for 977 children at centers in the three counties they oversee. The number is now down to 924 with a waiting list of more than 400 children over the three counties who want to attend Head Start.
Classes, food, care
The state to take the biggest hit was California where 5,611 Head Start kids were denied a spot in the program. In Texas, that number was 4,410. In New York it was 3,847.
Head Start is best known for providing preschool to low-income students, but it supplies many of children with two hot meals a day, transportation to and from school and basic medical care.
When these services are eliminated, it also affects parents who often must find difficult-to-afford day care services or take off days of work to tend to their children.
Mid-Florida Community Services, the nonprofit that administers her funding, must cut $454,296 from its budget of $9 million by Sept. 30.
In response, the agency decided to end retirement fund contributions for its 225 employees.
“We provide services not just for the child but for the whole family,” Rand said. “We have oral health specialists, nutrition specialists, mental health counselors and behavioral therapists. We also have family advocates who will help a mom get her GED or if a family is evicted will help find them a new home.”