Area Head Start facing cuts

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Sequester could force layoffs for Mora-Colfax program

By Mercy Lopez

HOLMAN — Mora-Colfax Head Start is asking area residents to contact their federal elected officials and ask them to end the budget stalemate that is threatening their budget and that could force them to reduce the number of students they serve.

The federal sequester has been weighing on Beverly Montoya’s mind since the beginning of the month. Montoya, director the Head Start program, along with members of the federal program’s policy council met with roughly 15 parents on Thursday evening. The sequestration may result in the program’s having to lay off staff, which would also mean reducing the number of students served by the program.

“The sequester is going to hit our communities and all the sites we serve,” said Ken Abeyta, the chairman of the policy council. “What happens at this point is we are going to cut a portion of the Head Start budget, and we have to ... pick the lesser of two evils.”

Montoya said the program is looking into possibly having to cut $65,000 from its yearly budget. She said their budget runs from January to December, which allows the program to absorb the cuts for more months than other federal programs that run from July to June.

She said the nationwide Head Start program would get cut $406 million. If nothing changes, Montoya said, the program is looking at having to stop providing services to 70,000 children nationwide. She said the cut would affect about 500 children in New Mexico.

“We are trying to get our community together to give us ideas on where to cut. This is the community’s program,” Montoya said.

Head Start is currently funded for 169 children within the four centers in Raton, Holman, Springer and Cimarron. The program currently has nine classrooms throughout the centers.
Montoya is anticipating a 5 percent cut, meaning a $65,000 budget loss for the program.

The program is funded for roughly $1.3 million a year.

She said that among the scenarios being considered to deal with the cuts include reducing the number of days in the school week, laying off employees, reducing transportation services and cutting down on various activities.

“The last resort would be cutting down the number of classrooms,” Montoya said. Currently, Cimarron and Springer sites are open four days a week. The other sites in Mora and Raton are on a five-day schedule.

Abeyta said, “All around, this is very bad news for every federal program. We all have to share the same information.”

He said there are some areas where they cannot cut from because of federal regulations such are father involvement initiatives.

“What I am going to recommend is that we don’t make any changes this school year,” Montoya said. “I am looking at trying to absorb this school year and make significant changes for next school year.”

Several other area entities are being affected by the federal sequester. They include the air traffic control tower in Santa Fe possibly closing, and some employees at Kirtland Air Force base and Bandelier National Monument receiving notice to expect furloughs.

“We need to get the word out to our representatives that we really want them to work through whatever issues they have so we don’t get this funding cut,” Abeyta said. “We are already dealing with tight budgets as it is.”