City, school district work to save Woodstock care center
City and school district leaders are moving forward with a plan to keep Woodstock Child Development Center open through December and to maintain before- and after-school care in the hope that funding for the programs will be included in an eventual state budget.
City officials said at a meeting Saturday that they are hoping to give the school district about $210,000 in Community Development Block Grant funds to keep the programs running for the next three months. The school district, which has been covering the cost of the programs since this summer in the hope that a state budget agreement will be reached, had been set to shutter them on October 8.
“We do believe we can, through a variety of changes, be able to cover the program for October, November and December while we all put our heads together to come up with what a long-term plan is,” Interim City Manager Ann Marie Gallant said.
City leaders were quick to say that the funding would be a “stopgap,” and not a permanent solution to the center’s budget troubles. Still, they said they will work with Alameda Unified to effect a more permanent solution if the state decides not to pay for the programs.
“This is just giving us time to figure out a long-term solution,” Mayor Beverly Johnson said. “(But) we’re not going down that road of the city taking over the program.”
The council anticipates discussing funding for the programs on October 22. Members of the school board will decide Tuesday whether to keep the programs going past the current closure date.
Most of the cost of the programs is typically covered by subsidies the state pays low-income parents to cover their child care costs. But Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in May proposed eliminating funding for those programs. District officials have advocated shuttering the programs as a result.
State lawmakers announced last week that they had reached an agreement on a framework for a budget, but details have not yet been announced.
Parents and other supporters of the programs – a group that included Alameda poet laureate Mary Rudge, who used the program – begged the school board and council to keep the programs up and running. They spoke to the quality of the program, and said they can’t continue to work without the care they are getting.
“Please don’t close down WCDC. If WCDC closes down, I won’t be able to work anymore,” said Helda Moya. She said her son would be “heartbroken” if the center shut down.
Gregory Matthews read a letter from another parent who touted the quality of the program and her need for it.
“I’ve witnessed my child become a better child because of the program,” the parent wrote.
One issue district and city staff are researching is whether the state will be able to subtract any money the city provides from funding they later approve for the programs. Members of the council and school board said they don’t want to be paying for the state’s budget problems.
Staffers will also be looking into ways to reduce the cost of the programs, which are estimated at a combined $751,000 per year.
“We could be continuing to lower costs. With fewer teachers, we could meet the same needs,” school board trustee Tracy Jensen said.
Separately, school district and city officials talked about an effort to free up more than $3 million in funding the city’s redevelopment agency has in an account for the school district’s use. The 1991 agreement that governs the use of the money only allows the school district to use it to build housing, something Superintendent Kirsten Vital said the district is not in a position to do.
Gallant said she and a contract attorney for the city are working on a bill that she hopes local legislators will carry, which would allow the school district to use the money to help pay operational expenses through the 2011-2012 school year. School district staff said they want to make sure the state won’t take away other funding before moving forward.
School board members publicly thanked local blogger and activist David Howard for discovering the funds.
“Citizens, through the sunshine ability, open government and dogged determination, can benefit both of our entities,” school board vice president Mike McMahon said in thanking Howard for his efforts.
The school board and council also discussed a proposal for the city to install synthetic turf at Thompson and Encinal fields in exchange for rights to use the fields.