Since 2011, Absaroka Inc., based in Worland, has operated Migrant Head Start in the summer, regular school-year Head Start and Early Head Start in Powell and other Big Horn Basin communities.
Migrant Head Start serves children from infants through age 5.
With Absaroka Inc.’s relinquishment of the Migrant Head Start grant, there will be no migrant program in Powell this summer, said Absaroka Executive Director Jamie Stockwell.
Migrant Head Start serves only children of workers who move into a community from another area in search of work, she said.
Stockwell said Absaroka’s first Migrant Head Start grant, obtained in fall 2010, funded the Powell center for 54 children.
The center didn’t meet the 54-child enrollment requirement during summer 2011 and that fall, Absaroka changed its Migrant Head Start grant to one for centers serving 20 children.
Last summer, only 21 children attended the center, which has four classrooms — two for infants and two for preschoolers — and the center’s budget was stretched thin, Stockwell said.
This year, it looked like even fewer children would attend, and lower numbers, combined with expected budget cuts through federal sequestration, made operating the program financially impossible, Stockwell said.
“We were not seeing data that would even support a grant for 20 children,” she said.
Agriculture has changed through the use of modern technology, and migrant workers aren’t needed as much as they once were, Stockwell said.
For instance, with Roundup Ready crops, farmers often are able to spray in advance to prevent weeds, reducing or eliminating the need for migrant workers to weed by hand.
“In some cases, farmers can operate the pivots for their sprinkler systems from remote controls in their cars,” she added.
The local Migrant Head Start program formerly operated under NOWCAP. After that organization lost its grant in 2007, the program operated under interim management assigned by the federal Migrant Head Start office.
But this time around, that office has provided no indication that interim management will be provided, Stockwell said.
“They’re simply not going to award that grant anymore,” she said.
No one will lose their jobs as a result of the decision to give up the grant, Stockwell said.
“We usually add another 15 to 20 staff” to run the migrant program in Park and Big Horn counties, but that won’t happen this year, she said.
Buses used to transport children in the migrant program will go to a Migrant Head Start program in another state, she said.
Stockwell said Absaroka is working working with Guadalupe Cuesta, Region XII collaboration director, and state agencies to identify other types of child care alternatives that might be available for migrant families.
Absaroka will continue to operate the school-year Head Start program out of the building on East Seventh Street in Powell.
“We will continue to provide comprehensive preschool Head Start services for eligible 3- and 4-year-olds at this location,” Stockwell said.
Stockwell said she doesn’t know yet what effects sequestration might have on the budget for that program.
In Powell, only the migrant program operated out of the Seventh Street building prior to 2011, first under the management of NOWCAP Services, and later under interim management. Meanwhile, the school-year program, managed by Absaroka, operated out of a church basement.
The programs began sharing the facility in January 2011 after Absaroka took over the grant for the Migrant program.
“It’s a gorgeous, gorgeous facility,” Stockwell said. “If all of our centers looked like that, I would be very, very happy.”
Stockwell said Absaroka hopes to develop community partnerships with other entities interested in operating from the building.
“I invite the community to look at that center,” she said. “I think we could work with the community to make it more efficient.”