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Keystone director predicts ‘rough winter’ as financial picture looms ever darker

by Dennis Sharkey

The elephant in the corner of the room is not getting any smaller and educators are wondering how the state intends to push the elephant out the door this June.

A report given at the Keystone Board meeting last week said that more than $500,000 of funding will have to be replaced by state funding when the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act dollars go away next year. In order for Keystone to operate at this year’s budget level, all of those funds will have to be replaced.

“It will be a very interesting legislative session,” Marshall said. “Unless the economy improves dramatically there are going to be more cuts. It’s going to be another rough winter.”

Marshall said the state legislature has also botched procedures of distributing funding and that has drawn the eye of the federal government.

One program under Keystone’s umbrella that has been hit hard by state cuts is the Parents as Teachers program that focuses on early childhood learning. Trained professionals go into homes or meet with families to teach parents ways of increasing children’s learning abilities before they reach public education.

Keystone Program Coordinator Cammie Braden told Keystone board members last week that 567 families are currently being served, which is 45 fewer than last year and 117 fewer than two years ago. Enrollment is not on the decline. New families, totaling 297, enrolled this year and every school district in the program has a waiting list. More than 100 families in total are on the waiting list.

“There’s a lot of families waiting to get services and the cuts have really impacted our ability to serve all the families that would like to be part of Parents as Teachers,” Braden said.

The program recently has made changes to become more efficient. Braden said Web cams are now being used to supervise visits with families and to communicate with professionals out in the field.

“It’s not quite as good as sitting across the desk from them or in their home with them,” she said. “But it’s the next best thing and it’s saving a lot of money.”

The program is having some real cost savings, but Braden said it has been a slow process as some parents are catching up to the technology.

Educators are required to take ongoing training as part of their job. To save money much of the training is done in-house and in conjunction with staff meetings to avoid additional trips that have mileage costs.

Another strain on the program is a mandate to cut visits down from six to eight weeks to once a month. Braden said the program has until 2014 to make the change.

“We will either have to have more funding or decrease the number of families,” Braden said.

Threats of funding cuts are also affecting the program’s ability to keep qualified employees. Braden said three educators recently resigned to take jobs elsewhere and indicated it was because of uncertainty.

The legislature convenes in January and education funding will be at the forefront of business.

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Posted by on Dec 2 2010. Filed under County News, Keystone Learning Services, Schools. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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