NORTH FORK – Parents, grandparents and children gathered in the office of the Head Start program at the North Fork School on Tuesday after learning their center would be closed at the end of the school year.
Mattie Mendez, Executive Director of the Community Action Partnership of Madera County (CAPMC), told the group that with the increases in the minimum wage, her agency is forced to cut expenses. That means closing one of the Head Start programs, and North Fork was the one recommended and approved by the Board.
Madera/Mariposa Regional Head Start provides preschool services in the City of Madera, Chowchilla, Fairmead, Oakhurst, North Fork and Mariposa.
Mendez noted that North Fork was chosen for several reasons, one being that of the 16 children currently enrolled in the program, 4 were from families whose income exceeded the federal guidelines.
“That’s 25 percent of the children, and last year it was 30 percent,” said Mendez. “The maximum is 10 percent, and if we exceed that, we can lose our funding.”
She also noted that there is only one child on the waiting list for North Fork, and that child also comes from a family that is deemed “over-income.”
Parents in North Fork are not accepting the decision without push-back. They wonder why their center has been chosen when others, such as Oakhurst, have similar over-income numbers, and families also have other choices.
Lemoore Rangel, who has a daughter in Head Start this year, said that the entire town is concerned about the loss of yet another service.
“There are options in Oakhurst,” said Rangel. “There are several preschools and transportation is less of a challenge. We would have to drive 17 miles to their Head Start program and it is only open three hours a day. Ours is six hours. Many parents don’t have the transportation to drive all the way to Oakhurst, especially for only a half-day program.”
There is now a 4Cs Preschool in North Fork, which was started last fall with a grant, however it costs $100 per month, per child, and is only a 3-hour program. That doesn’t do much to help families where the parents work a full-time job, say concerned residents.
Ellen Ching, director of the 4Cs Preschool, worked for Head Start for 32 years and says North Fork needs Head Start.
“The 4Cs Preschool will not be grant-funded next year, and will be strictly a paid program,” says Ching. “You have to qualify for Head Start, and many families don’t.”
A family of four can earn just $24,600 before they exceed the federal guidelines to be eligible for Head Start. On that income, it is very difficult to afford the cost of childcare, say parents.
While the executive board has approved the closing of the North Fork program, the proposal must still go before the Policy Council, made up of parents from each center.
Those interested in the North Fork Head Start program are urged to attend the meeting of the Policy Council on Thursday, Feb. 7, at 1225 Gill Avenue in Madera.