Parents ask district to keep childcare services
Families packed City Hall on Tuesday night to beg the school board not to shutter Woodstock Child Development Center and other childcare services on which they rely. Woodstock offers subsidized child care for low income families and fee-based care for others who can pay.
The board asked district staff to look at how they can keep the program open for an additional 45 days while families and staff research other care options for as many as 150 toddlers and school age children that would have been served at the center and two elementary school sites, Ruby Bridges and Henry Haight.
“I want to apologize to all of your families, because I do not think this is the way to handle this. We need to work together as a community to solve this problem,” said Trustee Trish Herrera Spencer, who offered her personal cell phone number and district e-mail address to parents and said she wants to hold a public meeting with them in an effort to help them get the care they need.
Board Vice President Mike McMahon said he didn’t want to create false hopes that the programs will stay open.
“It is clear that we don’t have the money to do this program,” McMahon said.
McMahon said the closure plans shouldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone on the board because the district laid off all the staff serving the childcare programs, though he did say the district could have done a better job communicating the impending cuts to the community. But Hererra Spencer said she believed the district had been working toward a solution for parents who need them.
Assistant Superintendent Sean McPhetridge told the board the district has to eliminate subsidized childcare services for toddlers and school age children at the end of the month because they aren’t sure the state will pay for the services this coming year. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed cutting funding for the services, though legislative Democrats said they want to preserve them.
Other problems: The Navy, which owns the property that houses Woodstock and Island High School, is now planning to charge the school district utility and sewage costs at the site that district officials estimate at around $14,000 a month. And district officials said they’ve got an unpaid vacation balance of $160,000 due to the programs’ staff.
But at-times tearful parents said they can’t afford private care and have had little success finding care they can afford. About a dozen parents, many of them single mothers, made their way to the podium, children in tow, to ask the board to find a way to keep their childcare – particularly the center, which some said was like a second family – in place.
“I have been calling private preschools, and there is no way I will be able to afford to keep my daughter in preschool. I will have to quit my job if this program is shut down,” Amanda Porter said. “Please, there has to be something you guys can do.”
Porter said her two children are at Woodstock and that she planned to put her older child in the district’s before- and after-school program when they enter kindergarten in the fall.
Mahogany Baptiste said that when she learned the before- and after-school program at Haight was closing, she started making calls in an effort to find care for her son. A separate care program offered at Haight and other elementary schools serving largely low-income families doesn’t offer the before-school care Baptiste needs in order to get to work on time, she said. And the Alameda Park and Recreation Department’s after-school program only operates if a certain number of children sign up.
Baptiste, a single mother, said she too will have to quit her job if she can’t find care.
“I couldn’t survive on welfare,” she said.
Woodstock director Carol Barton notified parents of the planned program closures at the end of July. Vital said the district had been working to prepare for the closures since May, though they were hopeful a state budget with funding for them would materialize by now.
The state subsidizes childcare for low-income parents, and those who earn little enough to qualify pay a fee based on their income. The district paid out if its own general fund to maintain the program over the summer, but Vital said the board would have to come up with around $900,000 to keep it open for the next year unless the state budget contains money for it.
McPhetridge said the district will have the money to continue its preschool program, which will serve 100 children ages 3-5. And he said district officials will try to find ways to recreate lost childcare programs, potentially on the district’s elementary school campuses.
The board is expected to vote on recommendations for Woodstock and the Haight and Bridges care programs at its August 24 meeting. Chief Business Officer Robert Shemwell said keeping the programs open for another 45 days could cost the district about $60,000.
Woodstock has been open since 1943. It serves around 200 children between the ages of 18 months and 11 years old, according to the district’s website.