Boundary County faces a big cutback in its Head Start program next fall.
That means less chance for success in life for low-income children, according to staffers and other fans of the federally funded program for preschoolers.
“No one wants to cut services,” said North Idaho College Head Start director Doug Fagerness. “We’re sad, frustrated.”
There was a glimmer of hope Monday when Fagerness heard there would be $36 million more in the national Head Start budget year that starts in July. But he doesn’t know if any extra money will find its way to the Idaho Panhandle.
NIC coordinates Head Start programs in the five North Idaho counties. Under instructions to prepare a budget with no more money but fewer expenses, officials proposed ending twice-weekly classroom instruction and cutting three jobs in Bonners Ferry next fall.
Boundary County, which charges a small fee to Head Start for use of a fairgrounds building, offered the space rent-free. But that wasn’t enough, said executive director Rolland Jurgens.
A Head Start committee of more than 40 people, including parents, made a recommendation to eliminate the program in Bonners Ferry, which serves the fewest people. Right now, there are 11 families with 17 children involved there.
But, Jurgens said, he insisted on keeping a Head Start presence in Boundary County.
Under the proposal, those losing their jobs would be a part-time bus driver, a part-time janitor/cook and a full-time family service coordinator.
The only remaining staff member would be family service coordinator Kathy Schnuerle. She would make a weekly visit to each home. Now, coordinators visit homes every other week.
Head Start families would get together only once or twice a month. Without regular classroom sessions, Schnuerle said, children won’t learn to function in a group, solve problems with others and follow a routine.
Parents are just beginning to hear about the proposal. One mother told Schnuerle that it was as a classroom volunteer that she had learned how to be a good parent.
“She said, ‘That’s what made me get it.”’
State Sen. Tim Tucker, D-Porthill, said he has heard from many Boundary County people worried about the cutbacks.
“A lot of people support Head Start; it cuts across partisan lines like few issues that I’m aware of,” he said. “There’s a gut feeling we’re not doing enough for the disadvantaged kids.”
Right now, he said, Bonners Ferry is serving 8 percent of the Head Start children in the Panhandle but is getting only 6 percent of the money.
In some communities, local school districts or other agencies work out partnerships with Head Start. Jurgens said he hopes such an arrangement can be worked out in Bonners Ferry.
Tucker said he believes the community already offers a lot of support.
Head Start in North Idaho always is underfunded, officials said. Only one in five eligible families can get into the program, and the Idaho Legislature has turned down repeated requests to contribute state funds.
“These are the people who can least protect themselves politically,” Tucker said.
“They’ve got enough trouble just surviving day to day. They need advocates.”