D.C. Child-Care Community Demonstrates Over Closing Centers

By Nikita Stewart and Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Child-care workers, parents and community activists, angry about the closing of 13 District child-care centers and the privatization of the city's child-care services, demonstrated in front of the John A. Wilson Building on Tuesday to support council legislation that would stop the process.

The last of about 160 child-care workers are set to lose their jobs Friday as the city turns over operations to local nonprofit groups. The D.C. Council supported a budget amendment Tuesday sponsored by council member Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5) that would force the administration to keep the day-care centers operational in fiscal 2010. But Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) has ignored earlier council legislation that prohibited him from closing centers without an analysis of the impact.

The mayor's disregard of the legislation, the privatization of other city services and other issues turned the raucous rally into an indictment of Fenty -- a mayor who rode into office as a populist and is increasingly seen by critics as the opposite. Signs referred to Fenty as "emperor" and "Mad Fenty."

"This is serious business. We're talking about people's livelihoods. The only thing he cares about is a heated pool to swim in and a soccer field with his name on it," said Roger Newell, chairman of DC Jobs With Justice, referring to the city's installation of a $75,000 heater at an outdoor pool the mayor frequents and a new athletics field emblazoned with his name.

Child-care services had been provided through the Department of Parks and Recreation, but the Fenty administration believed that children were better served and the city could save money if the federally funded program was handed over to nonprofit groups.

Local 2741 of the American Federation of Government Employees is also taking a legal route, asking a judge to again consider a temporary restraining order to halt the privatization.

On Tuesday, taxi drivers joined the demonstration, which took place before the council's first legislative meeting after summer recess. The drivers used the overall anti-Fenty theme to publicize what they said has been a 30 percent drop in their incomes since the city switched from a zone system to a time-and-distance meter system to determine cab fares. About 1,000 drivers, who also object to a proposed medallion system, were on strike Tuesday, according to organizers.

In other business Tuesday, the council bucked the administration by approving emergency legislation that would prevent the city from evicting former D.C. first lady Cora Masters Barry from the Southeast Tennis and Learning Center.

Barry, estranged wife of council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8), heads the Recreation Wish List Committee, which built the program a decade ago and has run after-school and summer programs there.

The city is trying to evict her based on the expiration of the committee's corporate papers, though Barry filed the necessary documents when alerted. A Superior Court judge recently granted the group a temporary restraining order that allows it to stay in the building.

The council voted 12 to 0 to approve legislation that would give nonprofit groups a break when it comes to such technicalities. If a corporate status lapses and is fixed, the nonprofit group could continue its agreement with the city. Barry abstained from voting.

But the council defused another showdown with Fenty over funding for the D.C. State Board of Education.

Fenty vetoed a budget provision this month that he said would have undermined his school reform efforts by allowing the state board to hire additional staff.

Instead of attempting an override, the council approved an amendment that allows the board to hire three staff members chosen from a list supplied by the state superintendent. The change was inserted in the fiscal 2010 budget support act, which received final approval from the council Tuesday.

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