barberton: The Head Start program at Decker School in Barberton will be under new management in January.
The program, dedicated to school readiness for 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds, is designed to help children make an easy transition to kindergarten.
The Akron Summit Community Action Inc. (ASCA) agency operates all of Summit County Head Start programs with federal funds from the Department of Health and Human Services. ASCA has contracted with Barberton schools to oversee the Head Start program for 44 years.
For the last eight years, it was housed at the Decker building, 633 Brady Ave., where it serves 336 children.
As a cost-cutting measure, the Barberton City School District Board of Education will no longer run the program.
Head Start is federally funded through the Akron Summit Community Action agency, but some additional costs come into play. In the past, the school system has been able to secure a grant that helped with the operation of Barberton Head Start as well as additional money through the general fund and non-federal share contributions.
Barberton school officials say the school system is in a financial crisis and looking to cut costs. The school system estimates about a $200,000 savings in costs and in-kind services by turning over management of the program.
“Our parents and pre-kindergarten children won’t see any change in services,” said Head Start supervisor Becky Moskos. “Head Start will be in the same building and we will have the same staff. The only difference is that the program will be run by ASCA. We are still very committed to the program.”
Parents walked their children in on the first day of Head Start on Monday morning; others were bused in.
“Don’t run, I know you’re excited, but we want you to use your walking feet, so you don’t trip and fall,” said Lori Boswell, a program aide at Decker.
It was already too late for one 4-year-old who tripped as soon as she slowed down, but bounced back up in no time, making sure she wasn’t in any trouble for running.
Some students were returning this school year and gave hugs to their familiar instructors.
As the morning progressed, children lined up in a straight line with only a few stragglers. A cry or two could be heard faintly down the hall.
“It’s hard for some of the 3-year-olds who have separation issues. They are still young,” said Moskos. “It didn’t take long for the children to get into the routine.”
Head Start instructors and aides will be paid by ASCA, which will purchase the services of the current cooks and maintenance workers at Decker.
“There will be no layoffs at the school; no employees will be uprooted or disrupted, just the financial piece will be different,” said school Superintendent Patti Cleary. “We are giving ASCA plenty of notice for a smooth transition. We are already spread thin and cannot offer the in-kind services we offered such as billing and payroll, which adds more duties to our already reduced administrative staff.”
She said the recent reorganization of the district’s administrative staff already adds more duties to its skeleton crew.
“The move will relieve the district of some of those administrative strains, so we can now serve K through 12 grades better, which is really our basic mission,” she said.
Cleary said there were only four districts in the state, including Barberton, who were fiscal agents for Head Start.
“There were more, but I think they saw the same thing we saw, a duplication of effort,” Cleary said.
ASCA President and Chief Executive Officer Malcolm Costa said the biggest part of losing Barberton’s oversight of the program is much of its in-kind services.
“Some of the cost savings to us was that we have not had to pay for space over the years, it was a rent-free building and that will continue until the end of the school year, but I’m sure there will be some space cost eventually,” he said. “The Barberton school district put other hard resources into the program such as matching funds. Above all else the Barberton Board of Education is committed to having Head Start as part of that community.”
Costa said the $1.7 million federal contract with Barberton has a local match of $350,000 with in-kind and other resources for the required local match of 20 percent of the budget.
“We will have to generate that match and assume the responsibility from Barberton. We are going to work as hard as we can to do that,” Costa said. “We’ve always had responsibility since 1968 for the Head Start program. This just means we will have direct responsibility instead of indirect responsibility.”
There are 1,300 students at the other 14 Head Start sites in Summit County. The schools stretch north to Macedonia and as far south as Springfield Township.
Marilyn Miller can be reached at 330-996-3098 or firstname.lastname@example.org.