Head Start at West to cut 3 jobs

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Sequester forcing cost-cutting

By Mercy Lopez

Three administrative positions at West Las Vegas Head Start are on the chopping block next school year courtesy of the federal sequester and an audit finding.

During a special board meeting Wednesday, Head Start Director Joseph Griego told the board the current plan is to cut 5 percent of his annual budget, and that would require the reduction in force of three employees.

In addition, Griego said he would need to cut five days from teacher contracts bringing them to 180, compared to the current 185. Co-teacher contracts will be cut by 15 days bringing them down to 170. Griego is also planning to take a $5,000 pay cut from his $72,500 salary. And two administrative positions will go from a 12-month contract to 10 months.

The board signed off on a letter notifying the union of the impending budget cuts.

The program needs to cut roughly $80,000 from its $1.6 million budget for next year because of cuts mandated by the sequester.

“We cut administratively and not directly to the classroom,” Griego said.

He said his fiscal year runs from June to July, so he does not anticipate any changes for the remainder of this school year. He said the program’s budget for next year is due today (April 1).

The Head Start budget approved by the board on Wednesday is actually the same amount as the current year budget because Griego is hoping that the cuts from the sequester won’t materialize.

While the total amount is the same, Griego budgeted the money in such a way that cuts can easily be made to non-essential budget line items.

“We are trying not to affect direct instruction,” Griego said. “Reality was if we took away a classroom we would have taken care of the job, but not only do you loose two people, you also loose 20 kids that are missing out a school year. It was not easy either way.”

The federally funded program has 200 students, 20 teaching staff members, one custodian and 11 office staff members.

The three positions cut are nutrition, health and literacy coordinators.

Griego said he is cutting those positions because the employees in those jobs have the least seniority. He plans to have other employees take on the nutrition and health responsibilities because those programs are mandated.  Literacy, meanwhile, is an initiative, but Griego hopes to still continue to provide the service.

He said the employees being laid off would get first priority for any vacant positions that arise next year.

These cuts will save the program about $127,000 and will not affect the students directly, Griego said. He explained that the teacher days being cut were used for home-visits and for teacher prep days.

The staff and program’s advisory panel looked at various options to deal with the budget cut including furloughs and eliminating a classroom.

“Everything kept coming back to cutting a classroom, just to make budget,” Griego said. But he added that the national office was urging Head Start programs to cut classrooms only as a last resort.

In addition to the budget cut, the program had an audit finding that the salaries of personnel needed to be between 30 and 80 percent of an operational budget. He said the program was using  93 percent of the operational funding for salaries because the program has veteran teachers with 14 plus years in the classroom, meaning they get paid at a higher rate.

“By doing the cuts it brought us to 81 percent, putting us right where we should be …,” Griego said. “We balanced the budget.”