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Spiraling Costs Force L.B. Out of Child Care Business

April 02, 1987|ROXANA KOPETMAN | Times Staff Writer

LONG BEACH — Running a child care program can get expensive, so the city is getting out of the business--much to the dismay of some parents and the 29 teachers and aides who will lose their jobs.

The City Council agreed Tuesday to notify the state that a Department of Education grant the city has received for seven years should be awarded to another child care provider in Long Beach.

This will not displace the 82 children in the city's four child care centers, the council members emphasized in response to opposition from upset parents and union representatives.

"We're not leaving child care out to dry," said Councilwoman Jan Hall, who repeatedly explained that the children would be shifted from the city's program to the day care center that picks up the state grant.

"We're saying to the state, we're not doing a very good job" and someone else can do it better, Hall said.

No Promise to Save Jobs

But while promising to keep the centers alive until all the children are transferred elsewhere, there was no such promise made for the teachers and aides.

City officials said they hope that the new provider will need additional teachers and hire those laid off by the city. They also said Long Beach will need seasonal workers in the Parks and Recreation Department and the instructors are welcome to apply for those spots.

The council turned down a request from the Long Beach City Employees Assn. for a two-week delay. Union officials said the move to drop the child care centers took the workers by surprise; they were told about it Friday. The timing, Field Representative Ellen Antler told the council, "has the appearance of a certain kind of callousness."

Hattie Herring, the parent of a 2-year-old attending the Wardlow Park center, complained to the council that "parents and staff were not involved in making this decision. . . . It seems like something is being done behind their backs."

Grant Doesn't Cover Costs

The child care centers at Houghton, Wardlow, Veterans and California parks originally were intended to be self-supporting, said James D. Ruth, director of the city's Parks and Recreation Department. But the city has found that the grant is not enough to cover expenses. The cost of running the program will escalate next year to $606,445--$206,626 more than the grant covers, Ruth said.

The average cost to the city is $29.35 per child, contrasted with other local centers that can provide day care for fees varying from $9.60 per day to $13.60 per day, according to a memo Ruth wrote the council.

Nancy M. Johnson, who heads the city's child care program, said the difference can be attributed partially to higher salaries and benefits city employees receive. The teachers receive $7.90 an hour and the aides receive $4.90 an hour, according to Johnson and union officials.

Too Costly Without Subsidy

Another reason, Johnson said, is that the state grant provides a 1% cost-of-living increase while personnel costs have been increasing at an average rate of 5.5% and food costs by 7%. Also, the city lost all its fee-paying children when the state raised its fee last year for unsubsidized children from $11 to $17 per day. Parents took their children to other, less-costly programs, leaving the city $60,000 poorer, Johnson said.

"It has not been cost-effective," Ruth told the council.

While the council was satisfied with the explanation, others in the audience were not.

Phyllis Levitt, director of state-funded, nonprofit Comprehensive Child Development Inc. in Long Beach, told the officials that "Long Beach has been looked to by other communities as a pioneer in many of the services it has provided. The city will lose enormously in its prestige by giving up the program."

Cost Cutting Urged

Lillie Wesley, who served on a task force that examined child care in the city, told the council, "You are not going to make all the programs in Long Beach cost-effective." But the city could try, she continued, by rearranging priorities and reducing administrative costs instead of cutting off service.

Imelda Aquino, 36, a teacher in the Wardlow Park center, said she was surprised to hear of the plans, adding that she intends to apply for a job with the new recipient of the grant, which will be put out to bid.

Debra Gipson, 27, an aide in the California Park center, described the news she received Friday as "sort of a shock."

"I personally feel they just didn't want to waste their money on the child care department," Gipson said. "This community really needs child care."

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