Head Start in NY county shuts down, workers left hanging

By Jim Watson
February 26, 2024

BETHEL, N.Y. — Children enrolled in the Head Start program and their families in Sullivan County, 90 miles north of New York City, took a big hit Feb. 2. I work as a bus driver transporting some of these children.

As the drivers and teachers who ride the school buses for this federally funded child care and educational program settled the 2- to 5-year-old children into their seats for the bus ride home, our cellphones lit up with a message from the countywide program administrators. “Due to unforeseen circumstances, we are closed until further notice,” it said. The shutdown left 349 children, 83 full-time staff and 11 part-time workers hanging.

Not surprisingly, the shutdown has given rise to all kinds of rumors about fiscal impropriety. It took days before some information was forthcoming from Washington. A spokesperson for the federal Administration for Children and Families told the media, “As a result of fiscal mismanagement, the organization does not have sufficient federal funding remaining to continue operating their Head Start and Early Head Start program.”

The families whose children participate in Head Start in this seasonal resort center are entirely working class.

Many of the children are in single parent homes, including single grandparents with more than one child in the household. The child care aspect of Head Start has been essential for the working parents who have jobs. Many families using this program can’t afford their own car in a largely rural county, which is now known primarily for its dairy farms and the Woodstock Music & Arts Festival held here 55 years ago. Public transportation is minimal.

The ruling rich are trying to transform the area into profit-generating casinos, racetracks and havens for middle-class refugees from the city. This has led landlords here to jack up rents and to the development of a residential construction boom.

The Head Start office in Washington says it will organize to “transition” to another service provider. In the meantime, working families and former employees are left in the lurch.