USD 373 school board votes to move forward with grant for head start

NEWTON, Kan. (KSNW) – The USD 373 school board voted 6-1 at Monday night’s board meeting to move forward with a grant that would keep the school district in charge of the Harvey County Head Start program.

Beginning in the 2019-2020 school year, new federal regulations will double the district’s costs to operate the program. The board decided the benefits of the program outweigh its costs.

ORIGINAL STORY BELOW

Newton schools, USD 373, may drop its sponsorship of the Harvey County Head Start program.

A staff recommendation to school board members is to drop the sponsorship.

The Newton schools superintendent says there is a combination of factors why the recommendation was made. But, money is part of the answer.

“Yes, we have 130 kids that are in the Head Start program right now,” says Dr. Deborah Hamm, USD 373 Superintendent. “We are at the end of our five-year grant.”

Hamm says a federal grant of nearly $1 million is coming to an end. But, along with that grant, the sponsor of the Harvey County Head Start has been required to match at least 20 percent of the federal money.

And, with federal regulations changing, that roughly $229,000 from the Newton school district, would have to be doubled to nearly half a million.

“Head Start and Special Education, and all (local) programs birth to (age) five run out of this building,” says Sarah Livesay, the building coordinator in Newton, where the Harvey County Head Start program is located. “Head Start just does so much. Not just the academic needs but social needs, health needs… mental health consultants.”

Livesay hopes some other agency could pick up Head Start, if it’s dropped by the school district. So far, no other agency or school district in Harvey County has shown interest, according to Dr. Hamm. And, she says, she understands parents will be upset if the sponsorship is dropped and nobody else picks up the program for 130 kids in Harvey County.

“So, there are a lot of unknown factors and a lot of concerns that we had moving forward,” says Dr. Hamm. “Any time you start looking at programs that are good for kids and talk about not having them available to kids anymore then there is a certain amount… I don’t know if I’d use the word outrage… but disappointment and concern on the part of parents.”

Hamm says, regardless how the vote with the board of education goes, the school district will still have the 4-year-old, at-risk program for kids in the school district. They will also still continue Special Education as it has been. But the Head Start portion could go away. That’s unless some other entity would pick up sponsorship.

If the district decides to apply for another 5-year grant from the federal government, then the district would have to go to all-day Head Start with new federal rules that began last month, according to Dr. Hamm. That means more money would have to come from the school district. But, if the Newton district drops sponsorship, there will be about ten teachers and roughly ten para-professionals impacted.

“I’m sure we would find space for them,” says Dr. Hamm. “We have openings that come up, and we would fill those positions with these (Head Start) people.”

Dr. Hamm says the board has a tough decision to make. And, she says, there is a question as to whether or not the federal government (U.S. Congress) already has the funding available.

Any changes for the district would not happen all at once, if Head Start stays with USD 373. At the beginning of the next school year, Dr. Hamm says any Head Start sponsor would have to bring at least half of its Head Start kids into an all-day program. The year after that, all the kids would be required to be all-day. Newton is funding half-day right now.

“I think that any time you have an uncertain funding stream and an uncertain outcome, it makes you question any decision where you don’t have all the facts,” says Dr. Hamm. “We should make decisions solely based on what’s best for kids and what’s best for our communities. And, oftentimes, we are forced into a position that does not allow us to follow that very simple creed.”

Dr. Hamm says Head Start is a program that offers much for the community. She says she feels passionately that it’s a great program. But, she adds, in a school district like Newton where they closely watch all budget items, money has to be a consideration.

“Our contract for the grant is up (in the spring) and it’s time to make a decision now,” says Dr. Hamm. “There are too many unknowns as to what the Federal Government will or will not do.”