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    Cost of sequestration hits home in Boston

    Head Start program braces for cuts that could leave 250 children and perhaps a center out in the cold

    Brody Dorion with his mother, Vanessa, at a Head Start in Boston. “It’s not day care,” Vanessa says. “The kids are in there learning.”
    Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe
    Brody Dorion with his mother, Vanessa, at a Head Start in Boston. “It’s not day care,” Vanessa says. “The kids are in there learning.”

    Vanessa Dorion has come to rely on the South Boston Head Start program, where her 4-year-old son, Brody, has thrived since he started coming in September. But there's a word that has unnerved her and most of the other parents who have children in the program — sequestration.

    Action For Boston Community Development officials say sequestration would slash by 15 percent the $24 million in federal funds the agency receives for Head Start programs across Boston. That would mean cutting 250 slots for children and potential pay cuts for staff. And it could force the closure of one or more of the 38 Head Start centers serving about 2,500 children in the city.

    “That would be terrible, because more than anything, this is beneficial for the kids,” said Dorion, whose son was stubborn, wouldn’t draw, and had no interest in counting before he started attending Head Start, but now loves math and drawing and works well in groups. “It’s not day care. The kids are in there learning.”

    Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe
    Sean Joy of Boston helped his daughter Jayla, 3, put on a scarf before leaving a Head Start center in Boston last week.

    The White House has released data on how sequestration would affect each state, and according to those figures, Head Start and Early Head Start services would be eliminated for approximately 1,100 children statewide. Funding for primary and secondary education programs would be cut by $13.9 million, putting 190 teacher and aide jobs at risk; 20,000 fewer students would be served; and 60 fewer schools would receive funding. Education for children with disabilities would take a $13.4 million cut, according to the White House figures.

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    “There’s no question that sequestration will have a significant impact on children with disabilities in the educational setting,” said Glen Shor, the state’s administration and finance secretary. He said that while the White House figures appear to be on-target, his office is currently working with economists and researchers to “pinpoint the precise impact” that the cuts would have on a wide range of services, from education to home heating programs to the Woman, Infants and Children program.

    Head Start began in 1965 as part of the federal War on Poverty, with a mission to better prepare low-income children for school. The program offers a range of services for students and their families, such as medical, dental, and mental health care and nutrition services.

    Michelle Hutchins said her son’s growth has been remarkable since she enrolled him in the West Broadway Head Start in July.

    “He’s much better with other kids, sharing and working with them, which gets him ready for kindergarten,” said Hutchins, referring to her 4-year-old son, Christopher. “Cutting something that works just doesn’t make sense.”

    Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe
    Five-year-old Grendaliz Sabater (center) played with classmates at one of the centers.

    John Drew, president and chief executive of ABCD, said the proposed cuts to the Head Start program will force him to make some “very tough decisions,” should the deadline pass without the adoption of an alternative plan. On Monday, he stood with US Senator Elizabeth Warren and four Massachusetts Democratic congressmen to denounce the proposed broad cuts.

    “I’ve been doing this 41 years. I don’t want to hurt people, but the bottom line is that the organization employs me to make sure we stay in business, so that’s what I have to do,” he said.

    “Pay cuts, we may have to do that, because it isn’t like we can lay off a bunch of people and still do this,’’ he added. “The only way to continue is to reduce the salaries. Those are horrible options.”

    Brian Ballou can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @globeballou.