It was just another day for Head Start students.
They played on the computer, listened to music and enjoyed playground activities. But the preschoolers found themselves in the middle of the federal budget standoff in Washington. This was the last week of classes because of automatic budget cuts from the federal sequester in March.
“We had to shut down one week early. Normally, school would be in session until May 23,” said Malcolm Costa, president and chief executive officer of Akron Summit Community Action Inc. “Other cuts include a reduction of 93 Head Start spots for the children in the fall and possibly a week delay when the program starts back up next school year.”
The amount being cut from the local Head Start’s budget is 5.2 percent or $658,865.
“The problem is that two-thirds of the year is already over, so there wasn’t a lot of time to make adjustments, so the impact is greater,” Costa said. “Teachers and teacher assistants will receive one week less pay this month.”
Notices to the families and staff about the early end of the school year were sent out about three weeks ago.
The students at Oak Creek Head Start Center on Massillon Road in Akron took the early start of summer in stride.
Chandler Ironfield, 3, couldn’t contain his excitement on the marble maze as he placed three marbles on it and watched them roll their way to the end of a tall tower.
“Yeah, did you see that?” he asked his teacher, Janelle Johnson. “Oooh, I did it.”
Chandler’s delight was contagious as three other students joined him.
The others looked for more marbles in the box, but came up short. Chandler decided to share.
“Thank you for sharing, Chandler,” Johnson said. “Nice job of sharing.”
In another area of the classroom, Cameron Sipe, 4, and Kayla Kaeka, 5, were busy on the computer playing a Jump Start game.
“I got them all,” said Cameron, who was matching letters to sounds.
“This is my favorite song,” said Kayla, who shook her head singing, “E-I-E-I-O.”
Strapped with headphones to their ears in the library area, River Laboy-Morales, 5, and Isaiah Knight, 3, stood up as they followed the directions on tape to the Chicken Dance, simultaneously touching their head, shoulder, knees and toes, then eyes, ears, mouth and nose. Suddenly, they picked up their pace.
“At the end, it gets really fast,” said River, not missing a beat with his movement.
Some of the parents showed up to share the last day of school.
“I brought her flowers, and came to hang out with her,” said Dustin Cabell of his daughter Madison.
Cabell said this is his second child to go through the program. She will join her sibling at Ritzman school in Akron’s Ellet neighborhood.
The happy scene belies the sadness of Head Start officials.
Costa said there will be a major reduction in Head Start services next school along with some positions eliminated.
There are 1,610 children enrolled in Head Start in Summit County with 17 students assigned to each classroom at 14 centers.
Next year, there will be 1,517 students at 13 centers. Findley Community Learning Center will be closed to Head Start because the space is needed for increased enrollment at the school.
“The cuts will be spread out and kept at a minimal to areas,” said Jessica Hurst, assistant director of the Head Start program. “No one community will have a dramatic impact.”
Head Start is a federally funded program that promotes school readiness for preschool children of low-income families. It is designed to enhance a child’s cognitive, social and emotional development and has been in existence in Summit County for nearly 50 years.
The Head Start and Early Head Start programs are federally funded from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
“Head Start has to follow certain standards including a required number of days to operate the program,” Costa said. “The federal government is relaxing those standards because they are aware that we would not be able to make the cuts in the budget if we had to comply with those standards.”
Costa said these are the final budget cuts until Congress takes action on a 2014 budget that sets aside additional money for the program.
Marilyn Miller can be reached at 330-996-3098 or firstname.lastname@example.org.