State budget cuts send pre-K Head Start kids home

Some 39 Head Start preschoolers in Hood River County are starting summer vacation sooner than originally planned when their program was forced to close early due to state funding cuts.

Mid-Columbia Children’s Council’s Parkdale Head Start Center closed Friday, as did one classroom of the two classrooms at its Pine Grove center. Also affected are 29 of the children MCCC serves in The Dalles, bringing the total to 68.

Funding to MCCC’s Head Start programs comes from both federal and state grants, according to Executive Director Suzanne VanOrman. The particular classrooms closing early are funded by Oregon Pre-Kindergarten (OPK) Programs.

For fall 2003, “we are planning business as usual,” VanOrman said. “We may have some reductions in what we do, but planning to do the same thing. Unless the money really disappears it’s really hard to say.”

“We’ll assume we’ll pretty much have what we had,” she said, in part because programs serving 80 or fewer students, including Early Head Start, are currently protected.

“But that depends on how deep the cuts go,” VanOrman said.

For 2002-03, the program first absorbed as much of the OPK cuts as she could manage, without resorting to cutting services to children and families, according to VanOrman. But finally, she had no choice but to shorten the school year.

“We managed to maintain the classes as long as we could by not filling a position and by making appropriate cutbacks,” VanOrman said.

The future is uncertain for Wasco and Hood River County families planning to send their preschoolers to OPK in the fall. So far, there is no news from the Oregon Legislature about next year’s budget for OPK.

Sixty people attended graduation ceremonies Wednesday at Parkdale, and the cafeteria filled up for a graduation potluck at Pine Grove.

“There were four adults there for every child,” VanOrman said.

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