Board rejects move to keep Families First center going

Published 5:00 am Thursday, September 23, 2004

The Lincoln County School District board of trustees on Mondaychose not to keep the Families First Resource Center but said ithopes others will step forward to save the program.

The Families First Resource Center is fully funded by a $160,000Mississippi Department of Human Services grant with the schooldistrict serving as the facilitator. The center has served morethan 5,000 students during its four years with tutoring and otherservices. It has benefited more than 500 families in thenine-county southwest Mississippi area through parenting and angermanagement classes and supervised visitation for foster carefamilies.

“It’s a good program. They’ve done a good job with it,” saidSuperintendent Terry Brister. “We just need to trim down ourobligations. We talked about it and discussed it, but we decided tolet somebody else handle it.”

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Budget cuts at the state level have threatened the FamiliesFirst program most of the year. The district had been informedearlier this year the Families First program would not be funded.MDHS came through with a three-month extension that has allowed thecenter to remain open through September and earlier this monthoffered the district another three-month extension to carry it tothe end of the year.

The board’s decision Monday not to accept the second extensionmeans the center will close on Sept. 30 as previously planned.

Debra Jones, assistant program director for the FFRC, said shehad hoped the board would agree to the extension to give them moretime to find a new grant facilitator.

“If they close it down for three months, it will be that muchharder to open it back up,” she said.

The center is in negotiations with several organizations to takeover the program, Jones said. But it takes time for paperwork to becompleted and the board’s decision Monday will close the programuntil it can be restarted in January.

Although the program is fully funded by MDHS, Brister said, itstill requires time and labor from members of the central officestaff to oversee. Budget cuts in the past year and other factorshave made it more difficult for the district to supervise programsnot directly related to educating students. In addition, he said,the looming threat of deeper cuts next year have officialsquestioning where they can divert resources to save money.

“It’s been a hard year, and we’re going to cut down on some ofour obligations,” Brister said. “It looks like next year will beeven more difficult with more cuts.”

The superintendent praised the work of the center’s staff andthe role it plays in the community. He said he doesn’t believe theprogram will have any trouble finding a new facilitator.

“I’m sure somebody will pick it up,” he said. “Hopefully, theycan devote more time and effort into it than we could.”

In the meantime, Jones said, families and students will not beable to use the center’s services.

In a letter issued by the center to be mailed to its clientslater this week, Jones says they “regret having to close the centerin this manner and hope that we can serve you again in the futureunder a new organization that will offer us the stability andbacking that is needed for a program such as this.”

MDHS has used the Lincoln County program as a model for centersthroughout the state.