Parents rally to save child care center

Parents of youngsters attending the Sunnyside School District's Early Childhood Learning Center met with Ruben Carrera, executive director of school and community resources, Thursday night to discuss way to cut the child care and pre-school's budget, making it more self-sufficient.

According to site manager Lydia Garcia, plans to open an early learning center began in the fall of 2000. The goal was to provide child care, first of all, to teenage mothers attending classes at Sunnyside High School. School district staff members would have second dibs on the remaining spaces available in the center, which is located at the corner of Ninth Street and Lincoln Avenue.

Garcia said there are a few students who take advantage of the program, but mostly children of teachers are enrolled in the facility.

"What we do is a lot more than just child care," said Garcia. "We've been able to provide that child care piece as well as pre-school."

Washington Elementary School Vice Principal Diann Zavala has been researching pre-schools to see if the Sunnyside School District is ready to provide pre-school instruction within the public schools. Currently, the school district offers developmental pre-school. The majority of the youths in the program are working on language development.

"The goal is to serve all those children who are not being served elsewhere," said Zavala.

She said that of the 520 kindergartners entering school this year, about 120 of them did not attend pre-school.

"The plan is to have 120 spaces for those not currently being served," she said. The pre-school classrooms will be located in each of the elementary schools. If pre-schools in public schools are developed they will most likely begin in the 2005-06 school year.

"It is not our intention to close down (the early learning center)," Carrera said to parents. "We want to talk about the cost."

Carrera said he will be making a presentation to the Sunnyside School Board next Tuesday night on some of the cost saving ideas the parents brought up.

"When we started out we asked the board to start the program (financially) and it would pay for itself down the road and it hasn't," said Carrera.

In its second year the early learning center borrowed $100,000. Carrera said that some of the money lost in the program has been due to state regulations.

One of the regulations is that for infants the adult to child ration must be 1 to 4. Carrera said when a fifth child is enrolled an additional full-time staff person must be hired. To take care of the problem infants have been enrolled in groupings of four.

Garcia said that children will be put on a waiting list until enough are enrolled to hire another teacher.

The teachers at the early learning center are paid better and have benefits that are not available to teachers at other day cares, said Carrera.

"We expect more of them and we expect them to give our children better care," said Carrera.

This year the early learning center is lacking $57,000 to balance the budget.

Carrera said that as a group, parents and the staff of the center need to look at ways to cut the costs.

Parental ideas included helping purchase materials for the class, parents providing janitorial services, a raise in tuition and seeking grants.

Concerned that the center may be closed, Outlook Elementary School teacher and a parent of a student at the early learning center Stephanie Parsons has been looking at different options to help make up the funding needed to keep the center alive.

One option she came across was the school district co-opting with the City of Sunnyside or Sunnyside Community Hospital, allowing employees of those two entities to use the services of the childhood center.

One concern was that parents outside the school district wouldn't want to use the facility because it closes for the summer, but questions were raised as to the possibility of keeping the center open.


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