Regional School Unit 3 is partnering with Waldo Community Action Partners Head Start program to provide pre-kindergarten services because an increase in the cost of the program offered by Broadreach Family & Community Services would have resulted in fewer students being served.

While Broadreach provided pre-K services for RSU 3 for a number of years and the district was happy with the program, Superintendent Paul Austin said the cost of the program would have increased from $165,000 per year to almost $300,000.

The total cost of the program is more than $300,000, Austin said, but Broadreach would have contributed some of its own funding to support it.

What was driving the increase in the cost of Broadreach's program isn't clear, Austin said, but he speculated it could be a decrease in grant funding.

Deb Hensley, director of early childhood education programs for Broadreach, said Broadreach has subsidized its pre-K services for many years and the community-based organization, which relies heavily on grant funding, can no longer continue to do so.

Through Broadeach, RSU 3 offered four pre-K classes at schools in Liberty, Monroe, Brooks and Unity, Austin said. However, because there weren't enough students in Monroe interested in the program this year, the number of classes was cut to three.

“My primary objective is to ensure we have programming for 4-year-olds,” Austin said.

By working with Head Start, which is a federally funded program, Austin said he can increase the number of classes offered to five, and the program can run four days a week. Even though Head Start's program has income restrictions that give higher priority to students from low-income families, RSU 3 will subsidized the program with $150,000 budgeted for 2016-17, which means any student, regardless of income, can participate.

In addition, Austin said RSU 3, through its partnership with Head Start, can offer pre-K services for 80 students — up from the 65 currently served. He said it is possible the program could also be expanded to include 3-year-old children.

“I had to choose between serving fewer children or making a switch,” Austin said. “They [Broadreach and Head Start] are both great programs.”

As districts have looked at ways to save money but still provide early childhood programs — pre-K students are factored into a district's state subsidy — Head Start has become an increasingly attractive option, not only to RSU 3 but also to nearby RSU 20.

Broadreach continues to provide pre-K programming for RSU 71.

Last year, RSU 20's Board of Directors voted to have Head Start run the district's pre-K program for 2015-16. While Broadreach Family & Community Services offered comparable programs, directors said the issue came down to “dollars and cents,” noting Head Start's program is federally funded, while a contract with Broadreach would cost the district about $168,000.

Although Broadreach will no longer be the district's pre-K provider, Hensley said the organization will offer a nature-based early childhood education program for children 2 1/2 to 4 years old. The organization piloted the program in Unity last summer.

The program, Broadreach Sprouts!, also will be available in Belfast, Hensley said.

Hensley said two-day, three-day and five-day options will be offered for the program.

The cost to participate in the Broadreach program will not be covered by RSU 3, Austin said.

Parents who have already registered for pre-K in the district do not need to do anything else at this time, according to a post on the district's website. Questions about pre-K registration can be directed to WCAP Head Start at 338-3827.

Those who are interested in signing up for Broadreach's program can call Victoria Nelson at 338-2200, ext. 100, or Roxanne Eggan at 338-2200, ext. 101.