SF Chronicle, “7 Oakland day care centers may close” (Aug. 27, 2010)
“7 Oakland day care centers may close”
Kevin Fagan, SF Chronicle [August 27, 2010]
The tots looked happy nibbling on snacks and playing tag around the tables, but for the adults at Jefferson Childhood Development Center in Oakland, Thursday afternoon was anything but fun and games.
Today may be the last day of operation for this full-service, low-income day care center and six others in the city. And as they stood contemplating that probability, the moms, dads and teachers said they have no idea what their alternatives will be.
Whatever they are, they’re bound to be either inconvenient or much more expensive, the adults all agreed. If there are alternatives at all.
“If they take this place away, I guess I’ll have to go to a family day care of some kind, and I don’t really know yet how I’ll pay for that,” said Tonya Hughes, worry lining her face as she watched her 7-year-old son, Andre Powell, laughing with his pals in the center at 40th Avenue and San Juan Street.
“If you’re trying to pay for mortgage, PG&E, food and child care, something has to give,” said Hughes, a social worker. “What do they want parents to do?”
Oakland Unified School District managers had originally planned to cut the seven early childhood development centers at the beginning of August, but after pressure from parents and community groups they found stop-gap funding to keep them open until September.
Now that second closure date looms, with the same economic crunch. It costs $400,000 to keep the centers open in August, said district spokesman Troy Flint, and finding another pile of cash is proving tough. The stop-gap funding, and millions of additional dollars that kept other child care and development programs open in the district, came by taking money from other programs such as adult education, he said.
“We will try to pull a rabbit out of the hat and keep everything open, but parents need to be prepared to have to adjust,” Flint said.
The centers slated for closure today at 5 p.m., in addition to Jefferson, are Hintil Kuu Ca, Manzanita, Santa Fe, Golden Gate, Piedmont Avenue and Sequoia.
The source of the trouble, he said, is proposed state funding cuts that have already forced the district to slice $13 million – 73 percent – of its early childhood education funding overall for the coming year to plan for the worst.
The seven endangered centers serve about 500 preschool and elementary schoolchildren. They provide supplemental education in math and other skills in addition to before- and after-school day care.
If they have to be shut, the children ages 4 and younger will be moved to the district’s 24 other early childhood development centers, Flint said. For many parents, that will probably pose difficulties as the newly assigned centers won’t necessarily be close to jobs or other locations that eased the handoff of children throughout the day, he said.
But for elementary students, such as Andre Powell, “it’s more complicated,” he said.
“We’re working with nonprofit and private after-school providers to fill in the gap, and we think we might be able to get some other categories of federal and state funding for low-income children that could help, but it would be a difficult transition,” he said.
Yvette Felarca of Oakland, a national organizer with the community group By Any Means Necessary, said her organization and several others are lobbying the district to redirect funding or find new money for the centers, but if that doesn’t happen, “we intend to keep these centers open anyway on Monday by whatever means necessary.”
“We don’t believe the claim that there is no money for this,” she said. “These programs are too important. They are the foundation for preparing kids for their lives, and some parents will have to quit their jobs if they don’t get this day care.”
She said the options for keeping the centers open “are endless,” including staffing the centers ad hoc with volunteers.
Flint said the district appreciates the group’s principle, but added, “we think it would be rash to defy regulations to staff with unlicensed volunteers.”
“We’ll keep working on this until the very last second,” he said.
E-mail Kevin Fagan at firstname.lastname@example.org.