If the Legislature approves new cuts to Head Start, Betsy Norcross Plourde says she would have to drop 25 children and let go of up to 10 staffers in Androscoggin County. Deb Florenz is looking at cutting 18 children and five staff in Oxford and Franklin counties.
Both program directors said Monday that they would also have to hustle to fill a gap: the roughly $150,000 each program currently receives from the state's General Fund nets $600,000 in a federal match.
Now state money and that match is suddenly in doubt.
A supplemental budget under consideration when the Legislature convenes for a special session Tuesday would cut $2 million of the General Fund's $2.4 million to Head Start. Statewide, that puts $8 million in matching federal funds in question.
"We're still trying to figure out what all of this means," said Florenz, who oversees Franklin and Oxford counties' Head Start for Community Concepts.
Her program serves 511 children from birth to age 5 and employs 130 people. Androscoggin Head Start & Child Care serves 300 children and employs 95.
Norcross Plourde said for her the cut would mean closing one or two classrooms.
"You're talking about working poor families who access care for their children that allows them to keep their job," she said. "What are they going to do if they lose child care?"
She suspects they'll opt for a less than ideal situation, ask family for help or go without.
Norcross Plourde said her $3.1 million budget, much of it from federal dollars, is already as lean as can be. "There's no more wiggle room."
Florenz said she's considering spreading the 18 cuts across different programs.
"Nobody wants to tell a child and a family there's no school for them next year," she said, adding that it's also frustrating to think of letting go of staff who've been "excellent." "It has nothing to do with the quality of the work."
It is possible to seek a waiver for one year if a program is caught short on its match, according to Florenz, that way both will initially brace for the loss of $150,000 and not the full $750,000.
Supporters of Head Start, MaineCare and other programs targeted for cuts in the new budget plan a rally Tuesday morning in the Hall of Flags at 9:45 a.m.
Gov. Paul LePage's office has called the proposal a matter of prioritizing needs.