Federal funding cuts hit Marshall-Starke Head Start's student transportation

PLYMOUTH - The budget sequester has claimed another local victim.
The Marshall-Starke Head Start program was forced to tell parents last week that they will no longer be able to provide bus transportation for all who participate in the program.

Head Start was informed that there would be a 5.27 percent reduction in funding because of the automatic budget cuts resulting from the lack of a federal budget. The problem for the program locally became what to cut.

"We began to look at what we could do to make the cuts that were necessary without making any program cuts," said Mike Lintner President of the Marshall-Starke Development Center. "The one service we provide that isn't required by the Head Start program is transportation for all our students. The last thing that we wanted to do was close a class room or send kids home."

Head Start will still provide transportation to students in Argos, Bremen, Walkerton and Grovertown. Parents in other communities will have to provide transportation for their children. The cut in transportation will begin with the start of the next school year.

"We started looking at those communities that were furthest away," said Lintner. "We used a ten mile radius from one of our classes (Knox, North Judson, Culver and Plymouth) as a sort of guideline. Some Head Start programs have just had to send kids home and we were determined not to do that."

"We're going to get with parents and do what we can to coordinate car pools or maybe look at other ways to help."
Lintner's letter to parents also spells out that the aging fleet of buses for the program will not be replaced in the near future either because of lack of funds to do so.

"It's about $200,000 we're cutting by doing this so I don't think anybody is just going to just write us a check for that amount," said Lintner. "It was a terribly difficult thing to have to do.

"We're also putting bus drivers out of work. I mean you tell somebody thank you for all your good service but we can't employ you next year. Through absolutely no fault of their own they suddenly don't have a job. That was one of the hardest things I've ever had to tell somebody."

Lintner says another difficult part is not knowing if more cuts are around the corner.

"We've asked that question believe me," he said. "We haven't gotten an answer."

(This story was published in the May 8 edition of The Pilot News.)