July 23, 2014

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Head Start to lay off 4 workers

At least four Lorain County Head Start employees are being laid off and an outreach program that served 48 children and their parents is being canceled because of federal budget cuts.

The layoffs and the cancellation will save about half of the $319,472 cut from Head Start and $23,500 cut from Early Head Start, according to Jackie Boehnlein, CEO and president of Lorain County Community Action Agency, which runs local Head Start programs.

The programs, designed to better prepare poor children for school, serve about 1,027 children countywide. Early Head Start serves children from birth to 3 years old, while Head Start serves 4- and 5-year-olds.

The cuts are because of federal budget cuts known as sequestration that exclude Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. The cuts affect about 5 percent of Lorain Head Start’s $6.85 million annual budget and will end the Home Base program serving 16 families.

Boehnlein said it made better sense to keep teachers, who instruct between 20 and 34 students four days per week for 3.5 hours per day, rather than the “home visitors,” who see 12 children for an hour each weekly.

Nonetheless, Boehnlein said Home Base is a good program that the agency is unhappy about cancelling. Children in the program will be eligible to enroll in Head Start classes.

Boehnlein said the agency has until Aug. 1 to decide on the remainder of the cuts, which may include extending annual temporary layoffs. Head Start teachers are laid off between the end of May and the end of August when classes resume.

Boehnlein said she doesn’t expect management layoffs, but some administrators may be furloughed. The agency employs 156 workers, including about 90 Head Start employees.

The cuts come as Boehnlein is making non-sequestration changes, which she said are partially due to new federal mandates that Head Start teachers have bachelor’s degrees, requiring higher salaries.

Ten teachers are being laid off and 15 family service workers are having their hours halved while 10 new part-timers are being hired, according to Anthony Caldwell, a spokesman for the Service Employees International Union District 1199, which represents the workers. Caldwell said the family service workers would lose their health benefits, and the union has filed grievances on behalf of them and the teachers.

The cuts led to an anonymous Monday letter to The Chronicle-Telegram, purportedly from agency employees, that accused Boehnlein of union-busting and blasted her for not cutting administrators.

“This is outrageous!” the letter said. “Two to three union workers salaries are equivalent to one director, site coordinator, supervisor or manager’s salary.”

The letter described filthy classrooms, malfunctioning technology and dysfunctional administrators at the Head Start School at 1050 Reid Ave., Lorain, and said employee morale is at “an all-time low.”

Allegations of similar mismanagement in a letter last year to The Chronicle were determined to be false by the Ohio Development Services Agency.

Boehnlein, hired in 2007, said she’s tried to improve morale since being promoted in July. Boehnlein, who said she voluntarily reduced her annual salary from $85,000 to $75,000 in January due to cuts, said whistleblowers are protected and that anonymous accusations are unfair.

“If you feel strongly enough about something, then put your name on it and come forward and work through the system to address issues,” she said. “It’s garbage. It’s cowardly and sad.”

Caldwell said his union had nothing to do with the letter, but family service workers believe they’ve been retaliated against for union activity.

Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or egoodenow@chroniclet.com.