Childhood development centers get a month’s reprieve
on August 3, 2010
Teachers searching for new jobs and parents looking for new childcare options got some last-minute good news—the seven childhood development centers slated to close last Friday due to budget cuts will remain open for another month. The Oakland Unified School District announced it was allocating $400,000 in federal stimulus money to keep the centers running through the end of August.
“The district realized there were no alternatives for the families and the children being displaced,” said Laurice Brown, whose children attend the Manzanita Early Childhood Center. The imminent closure of the centers had so alarmed parents that a group of them had planned to hold a takeover on Monday to keep the centers open with volunteers. The district supported this idea in principle, but raised concerns that it could cause liability issues and ultimately discouraged parents from doing a takeover.
The seven childhood development centers assigned to be closed were Manzanita, Hintil, Santa Fe, Jefferson, Piedmont, Sequoia and Golden Gate. An eighth center, Parker, had already been slated for closure earlier this year.
The district initially had put the stimulus money aside for professional development for teachers said Troy Flint, the director of public relations for the OUSD. But, he said, “given the severity and harm in closing the centers, we used that $400,000 to keep those school-age childhood centers open during August.”
The seven centers offer preschool, summer and after-school programs to nearly 900 Oakland children. There are 31 such childhood development centers in total in Oakland. These centers provide childcare and early education to children in pre-K through third grade. However, the extension through the end of August will only be able to serve children in kindergarten through third grade; those children who are in pre-K have been redirected to other sites specifically for their age group. The parents of these younger children were given notification of the new sites in June.
The reason that only school-age children will be able to attend, said Flint, is that once school begins those kids can be integrated into those sites’ after-school programs. However, this fix doesn’t address before-school care. “Prior to 8 am, there’s no school supervision,” said Brown, “so parents will have to leave their children unattended.”
Flint agrees that the problem hasn’t yet been entirely resolved. “We are looking at each individual site to see what they can do negotiate early arrivals,” he said. Flint explained that the main barrier is cost. “We were placed in this spot by the governor’s decision to de-fund early childhood education and eliminate all funding for school-age children,” he said. “It’s impossible for a school district at this level to compensate with this type of loss.”
OUSD’s overall funding has been cut by $110 million this year. In May, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger began revising the state budget and proposed cutting $1.2 billion from early childhood education statewide. If his proposal goes through, 73 percent of the overall budget ($13 million) for early childhood education in Oakland will be cut, according to Flint.
With a $19 billion budget gap for the entire state, Schwarzenegger is struggling to find means to help California recover. Oakland’s state assemblymember Sandré Swanson is a member of the budget committee and is opposed to the cuts. “A mean-spirited budget game is being played up here, using children as pawns,” Swanson said. “I think on the face of it, it has to be challenged.”
Swanson said that during a recession, cutting childcare is antithetical to any strategy of recovery. “The federal government has talked about jobs being the most important accomplishment to recovery,” he said. “You cannot accomplish job opportunity without people having childcare—they go hand-in-hand.”
Flint agrees with Swanson’s stance. “The governor’s proposal in unconscionable,” Flint said. “It’s an abhorrent practice to balance the budget on the backs of the most vulnerable individuals of society—young children and working families.” The OUSD has been working with the state legislature to fight the governor’s proposal.
Despite the extension through August, the future for the centers remains uncertain because Schwarzenegger’s proposal could still be approved. In the meantime, both the district and parents advocacy groups are exploring other options.
Parents like Laurice Brown are working with the advocacy group Oakland Parents Together, which is searching for ways to keep the centers open through alternative means by reaching out to different social organizations and churches to see if any members or groups are licensed to operate childcare facilities.
If the centers close at the end of August, some of these parents still intend to carry out their original plan and hold a protest takeover to keep the centers open using volunteers, despite the district’s rejection of the idea. “We want to be compliant as much as possible,” said Brown, “but we are still preparing for closing and will still do a takeover.”
The OUSD is urging Oakland parents to write letters to members of the state legislature, including the governor and senate and assemblymembers such as Senator Denise Ducheny, Senator Bob Dutton, Assemblymember Nancy Skinner and others, to speak out against the budget cuts. “We are going to continue to meet to see what we can do,” said Flint, “but there are no easy answers at this time.”
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