Save the Children is new grantee for Head Start

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By Carolyn Roy, carolyn@natchitochestimes.com

Save the Children is the new grantee for the Head Start program in Natchitoches and DeSoto Parishes. It will also serve Red River Parish. Save the Children has operated Head Start and Early Head Start programs since 2011. The grantee assumes the operation of Head Start after that was under the auspices of the Natchitoches Parish Police Jury and Natchitoches Parish Government for 29 years.

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Parish Government Director of Community Services Sharon Harris told Parish Council members at their meeting Monday that transition to the new grantee has been gradual and will be complete after Labor Day. Employment for those who worked for Head Start under Parish Government ended June 30 except for a few administrative staff who will be retained until July 31 to complete the closeout.

One of the greatest financial concerns of the Parish Council has been the potential liability for unemployment insurance if former employees are not hired by Save the Children. Parish Treasurer Julie Lockhart said that liability could be has high as $300,000 if none of the former employees are hired. Even though Head Start employees were paid through the federal grant program, Parish Government will be responsible for unemployment benefits if Save the Children does not agree to assume those costs for former employees it does not hire.

There were 52 people employed in Head Start and its food service program under Parish Government. Lockhart and Parish President Rick Nowlin have been in negotiations with Save the Children to put $300,000 into a reserve fund to pay unemployment. They are hopeful they will get confirmation on that proposal this week. Also of concern has been how the reduction in the number of Parish Government employees will affect health insurance rates.

Parish Human Resource Coordinator Cathy Creamer said that according to the Blue Cross/Blue Shield agent, there will be no change in the current premiums although the Parish should expect an increase next year. Parish President Rick Nowlin said his office has been in touch daily with Save the Children through emails and conference calls. The new grantees hosted a two-day seminar at the Natchitoches Events Center to acquaint former employees with the new program.

About 95 percent of the Head Start employees attended. They can apply online to work for the new grantee and if they are hired, their benefits will be effective immediately with no waiting period. Save the Children’s Head Start program will include 310 children in Natchitoches and DeSoto parishes. Of the total, 270 will be ages 3-5 and 40 will be birth to 3, in five classes.

The program will also serve children with special needs, those in foster care and families that are homeless. Head Start and Early Head Start are federally-funded programs that offer early learning opportunities to children birth to age 5 and their families living in poverty.

According to a release Tuesday by Save the Children, the programs provide comprehensive services, including education, health, social-emotional and family engagement, to address the developmental needs of children and families.

Save the Children operates Head Start and Early Head Start programs in rural communities in four states – Arkansas, Louisiana, North Carolina and North Dakota – serving more than 1,600 children and their families.