ASHLAND — Ashland may lose one of two Head Start classes next year to the Upper Rogue.

ASHLAND — Ashland may lose one of two Head Start classes next year to the Upper Rogue.

Southern Oregon Head Start hopes to negotiate an affordable lease agreement for a class in Trail, where the need is greater than in Ashland, said Alan Berlin, executive director of Southern Oregon Child & Family Council, which operates the region's Head Start program.

"Based on what the demographics say about the communities, the hard facts are that the number of eligible children in the age group we serve is greater in that area," Berlin said of the Eagle Point School District, which serves the Upper Rogue region. "Our data has indicated that we have trouble filling the second class in Ashland."

The preschool program for low-income families operates two classes a day in Ashland that serve about 20 3- to 5-year-old students each. One class has been dropped before — last year — because of federal budget cuts.

Sabena Moriarty has two children in Ashland's Head Start and sits on the regional program's Parent Policy Council. The council voted to allow the Southern Oregon Head Start board to begin pursuing an agreement with the Eagle Point district to lease a portion of the Elk Trail School.

Eagle Point is closing the school in June and merging its students into Shady Cove Elementary because of budget cuts.

Moriarty said the board found that $20,000 from the regional program's $12.7 million budget could be used to lease and operate the Elk Trail class as long as the Ashland program was cut in half.

"It's not going to save a lot of money because we're just going to be shipping the class somewhere else," said Nancy Nordyke, director of Southern Oregon Head Start. "We do, however, have to look at where the greatest number of children is, and it does appear that the greatest need is in the Eagle Point and Shady Cove area."

Eagle Point's Head Start program also operates two classes that serve 40 students, but it typically has a much longer waiting list than Ashland.

At the beginning of this school year, 16 children were waiting for a spot in Eagle Point, two in Ashland. By February, Ashland's number had grown to 16, but Eagle Point's waiting list grew to 30, said Nordyke.

Another Head Start program is operated in Ashland at the old Briscoe school by the Oregon Child Development Coalition, but it primarily serves the children of parents who are migrant and seasonal workers. It also offers one preschool class each school year that is open to all low-income families.

Berlin said attendance at the OCDC school likely is one of the reasons the Head Start program on Walker Avenue has a limited amount of applicants.

There is typically a 20-family waiting list for the classes at OCDC, said Don Williams, program director.

Moriarty's 5-year-old son, Aidan, will be moving on to kindergarten at Bellview next year, she said. Her 3-year-old daughter, Ava, will be one of 19 students who plan to return to Ashland next year.

That leaves one spot for a new student, said JoAnn Manzone, the family advocate at the Ashland Head Start.

Manzone said the program has about seven new applicants for next school year, but she expects to have closer to 25 or 30 by the end of summer.

"It saddens me to think that there are going to be so many children excluded in our community, and so many families," she said.

Manzone said the families who qualify to send their children to Head Start likely don't have the funds available for sending them to preschool elsewhere. Three of the families who have children in the Ashland program are homeless, she said.

She said parents also can benefit from their children being accepted into Head Start. The program offers parents financial aid for taking introductory classes at Rogue Community College and sometimes provides excess food to families.

Negotiations surrounding a lease agreement for Elk Trail School are ongoing, said Berlin, and no decisions have been made yet.

"We can't serve everybody in every community, (that) is the unfortunate reality," said Nordyke. "If we had additional funding we would definitely be looking for two classes in Ashland again because we know that there are children there, but we are trying to balance out where the greatest need is."

She said 10 of the 40 students being served at the Eagle Point center are from Shady Cove, about seven miles south of Trail.

The costs saved by not having to bus students to Eagle Point from Shady Cove will also contribute toward running a one-class program at Elk Trail School, she said.

"The cost of the facility and the utility cost are major, major considerations," said Berlin. "If it's affordable, we'll go."

In the meantime, Moriarty said she will be canvassing Ashland, working to bring its application numbers up.

Her 2-year-old, Phineas, likely will not go to preschool next year if Ashland's Head Start program is cut, she said.

Sam Wheeler is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. He can be reached at 541-499-1470 or swheeler@dailytidings.com.