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Published April 19, 2012, 08:08 PM

Local Head Start Program Faces More Cuts Amid Budget Constraints

GRAND FORKS (WDAZ-TV) - Head Start has already made cuts to hours of some staff, and they're looking to make additional changes.

By: Stacie Van Dyke, WDAZ

GRAND FORKS (WDAZ-TV) - Head Start has already made cuts to hours of some staff, and they're looking to make additional changes.

The program, which increases school readiness for low-income children, currently serves 357 children in Grand Forks. Director Jerry Jonnson is tasked with figuring out how to best serve those children, despite a stalled budget.

"I don't have an option," Johnson said.

More than 80 percent of Head Start's $2.4 million budget goes to salaries and benefits, which increased 10 percent last year with no increase in the total budget

"The funds that we get every year are pretty much the same we don't get significant increases at all," Johnson said.

This crunch has left Johnson, director of the program for only 10 months, having to try to find a way to close the gap, even after cutting the hours of some staff last month.

"I had to look at the transportation area. I had to cut some staff out of that," Johnson said.

Due to the rising cost of maintaining buses and keeping up with rising gas prices, beginning July 1, Jonnson says the bus fleet will be cut in half from eight to four buses and drivers.

"With budget cuts and constraints, we just want to make sure we do the best thing for the kids," education coordinator Kristy Hanson said.

"It's a real difficult decision to any director because we have to let go of staff that are committed, that do a real service to the children when they transport those kids to class," Johnson said.

Johnson says Head Start will work hard to provide transportation to those who absolutely cannot get their children to school any other way, a number that will likely keep rising as the school currently has a waiting list just to get in.

"We hold out hope for more funding, but we're realistic too that we have to find ways to cut that affects the children the least," Hanson said.

"I understand this is not a positive situation for a lot of people. We're trying to lessen that as much as we can, but it is what it is right now," Johnson said.

Jonnson says he will be in the same position next year when receiving the budget as costs for everything else like salaries, repairs and gas prices will only keep rising.