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Cash Crunch May Close Day Care Center

December 03, 1987|BONNIE HEALD | Times Staff Writer

About 300 low-income children in Santa Monica may lose their day care center because of the facility's financial bind.

Squeezed by government regulations, legislative budget cuts and inflation, the Santa Monica school district's 44-year-old Children's Center will run out of money by the end of the 1988-89 school year.

The center provides child care on weekdays from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. at four Santa Monica schools for low-income parents who work, attend school or are incapacitated.

The center with its staff of 30 teachers and 30 aides provides preschool care for children 2 to 5 years old and extended day care for children age 6 to 12.

No More Money

"We've been very frugal with our budget over the last eight to 10 years," center Director Barbara Blakley said, "but without more money, the 1988-89 school year will be the end."

Although the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District administers the program, the center is supported solely by fees from parents and state funding, neither of which have kept up with inflation, Blakley said.

The center receives $800,000 a year from the state and about $20,000 a year from parental fees, Blakley said. That leaves an annual deficit of about $20,000.

Parental fees, based on a sliding scale that includes family size and income, cannot be raised by the center because the program is operated for low-income families and the fees are set by the California Department of Education, Blakley said.

For example, a family of three earning a monthly income of $1,080 pays 90 cents a day for child care. A family of three earning $2,160--the maximum income allowed for a family of this size--pays $16.65 a day.

According to the state Department of Education, the program costs $19.40 per day per child.

Because the center is required to give the lowest-income families priority, Blakley said, "most parents pay little or nothing.

Reserves Running Out

"We've been operating on reserves since 1980, but we're running out," she said.

Before 1980, the center received local, state and federal funding, Blakley said. Local support disappeared when Proposition 13 passed in 1978. An agreement between the state and federal governments left child care programs such as the Children's Center in the hands of the state, she said.

State support for the center has dwindled, and recently Gov. George Deukmejian vetoed legislation that would have given preschool programs a cost-of-living increase similar to that given elementary and secondary educational systems, Blakley said. She said if the center had that cost-of-living increase, it would survive.

Since 1981, cost-of-living allowances for preschools have dropped 37% below those given to elementary and secondary educational systems, California Children's Lobby spokeswoman Sherrie Skelly said.

"We've gone through the standard belt-tightening," Blakley said. "There just is no more money."

Nor is there any place left to cut back. Preschool teachers' salaries are already low, Blakley said. According to a school district salary schedule, a preschool instructor with a bachelor's degree earns between $14,825 and $17,890 a year.

And the children still use much of the school's original equipment, Blakley said, pointing to well-worn tables and benches built when the center opened in 1943.

Blakley has formed a committee of teachers, parents and administrators to help organize a fund-raising campaign for the center.

"In 45 years we've never asked the community for anything, but we need help now," Blakley said.

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