MERCED — Just-announced cuts to Merced County's Head Start program are sizable — but not as drastic as feared last spring.
Linda Kaercher, the county's Head Start director, said 52 Head Start children and another dozen Early Head Start participants won't be served as a result of federal sequestration cuts taking place between March and October.
Originally this county's Head Start program was destined to lose 70 children and 20 staff positions. That ultimately was reduced to 14 slots, seven of which were unfilled, meaning only seven Head Start workers lost their jobs.
"This was a huge tragedy," Kaercher said Tuesday. "I am very sad to have lost spaces. I am hopeful President Obama will be able to restore the cuts. These services are needed."
Kaercher said the Delhi Early Head Start site was closed and a Cal-Safe partnership was discontinued. One of three Head Start classes at the Schelby Center in Livingston was eliminated and a caseload of 12 home-based students was closed.
Merced County's Head Start program serves 1,060 children from 3 to 5 years of age at 16 sites. The federal government spends $8 billion a year on Head Start.
The federal Office of Head Start said this week that automatic federal spending cuts will reduce 57,265 spots for low-income children throughout the United States during the next school year. More than a million children and their families are served each year by the program, which dates back to the federal government's mid-1960s War on Poverty program.
California has the largest reduction, serving 5,611 fewer children, followed by Texas, 4,410; New York, 3,847; Pennsylvania, 2,812; and Ohio, 2,782.
Kaercher said Head Start is a federal program for preschool children from low-income families. Children who attend Head Start participate in a variety of educational activities and receive free medical and dental care along with healthy meals and snacks.
Reporter Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Associated Press also contributed to this report.