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D.C. Parents Raise Concerns About Child Care and Mentoring Programs

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By Hamil R. Harris
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 26, 2009

Ivy Miller brought three of her children to the John A. Wilson Building yesterday to make the case that she would be devastated if the city's Department of Parks and Recreation closes the child-care program at Turner Elementary School.

"If I didn't have my child's before- and after-care program, I couldn't work," said Miller, who was among nearly 100 people to testify before the D.C. Council Committee on Libraries, Parks and Recreation about cuts in the proposed fiscal 2010 budget.

Residents raised issues ranging from child care to mentoring programs during a hearing that stretched more than 13 hours.

According to city budget documents, 250 full-time positions are to be cut from the department as part of an effort to balance the District's budget. Of the 250, 111 would come from child-care programs.

Clark E. Ray, director of the agency, said it serves about 550 children through its early child-care and before- and after-school programs. But they might be privatized eventually, he said, and the agency can no longer afford to staff them.

The department is reimbursed for the child-care programs, which operate under the purview of the Office of the State Superintendent of Education, Ray said, but the office has been reducing the budget because programs have been underenrolled. That, Ray said, is a result of the emergence of other child-care and Head Start programs in the city.

"We've received a $4.5 million authorization for an $8 million program, and our agency can't afford it," Ray said in an interview before appearing before the council panel.

"This is a staffing issue. This is not a children's issue," he said. "When structured education -- which is early child care, before care, after care and Head Start -- start to impact on recreation programs, there is a need to right-size and make programs more efficient, and that is what we are doing."

Kimberly Harrison, another parent, is worried and frustrated.

"As a certified public accountant, I know how to balance a budget," she said. "This program has worked when other programs have not."

She has a 2-year-old daughter in a program at Banneker High School. She, Miller and others have heard the possibility that the program will be privatized but are not convinced that it will survive. Some have protested outside the home of Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D).

Council member Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5) said: "Even if we lay the staff off, we still would have to pay for unemployment and service costs, which doesn't make sense. These programs should be part of our safety net for the children.


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