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Montebello Day-Care Plan Aims to Lower Family Costs : Services: Officials propose a one-year pilot program at three elementary schools that will keep expenses minimal.


MONTEBELLO — There is one thing that this city's low-income, working parents who want to send their children to a day-care program must first do:

Get a raise.

"It's been very, very difficult for low-income parents here to get affordable day care," said Rozanne Barron, city community services coordinator. "It's gotten to the point where they just go without it, and their children go home to an empty house."

But the city, the YMCA and the Montebello Unified School District hope that cooperative efforts using local school facilities will allow more low-income parents to enroll their children in day care that they can afford.

Since the early 1980s, the only before-and-after-school day care offered in Montebello for the 5,000 students who attend elementary and intermediate schools within the district has been the YMCA's extended-day program.

But at $46 a week for the first child and even with slightly discounted rates for siblings, not all parents can afford to pay the minimum of $1,600 per school year for the Y's before-and-after-school programs, city and district officials said.

So city officials submitted a proposal this week to the school district for a one-year pilot program of before-and-after-school day care at three elementary schools. The program, designed to keep expenses at a minimum, would cost the city about $185,000 to operate.

"The city does the summer camp type of thing," Councilwoman Kathy Salazar said, "but so many other children needed care during the year, and we don't have any programs for them. We needed to do something. These are not just school kids, they are our kids."

The program, which was unanimously approved by the City Council last week, would be one of a handful in Southeast Los Angeles County that is paid for, administered and staffed by city employees for the school district, using district facilities.

Under such programs, cities do not have to pay the overhead--such as rent, utilities or custodial services--and school districts do not have to pay for staffing. Thus, the arrangement allows for low-cost day care, city and school officials said.

Pat Dangerfield, leisure service supervisor for La Mirada, said that city has had such an agreement with the Norwalk-La Mirada Unified School District since 1982.

"As cities look around and say, 'Hey, we've got these kids hanging around with nothing to do,' and parents say, 'Why don't you provide something for them?' cities are looking at more creative ways to meet the need," Dangerfield said.

Other cities with similar programs include Downey, Santa Fe Springs and Pico Rivera.

Barron, the Montebello community services coordinator, said the program will probably begin in November at Greenwood Elementary, Fremont Elementary and a third school to be determined.

Barron said about 150 students will be served at a cost of $25 per child per week. Parents who enroll more than one child will receive additional discounts.

Montebello has been working on the before-and-after-school proposal for about a year, Barron said. Late last year, the city's parks and recreation department conducted a survey of parents at five elementary schools.

About 108 parents surveyed said they would like to enroll their children in such a day-care program, Barron said.

"Basically, the only service in town has been the YMCA," she said. "It's a good program, but the problem is that it just isn't affordable. We are talking to parents who make $1,000 a month or less with two or three kids, and they just couldn't send their children there."

The YMCA offers before-and-after day care at its facility on Beverly Boulevard, as well as three schools in the district. Rich Brumagin, the Y's executive director, said enrollment in the program has exploded from 33 students three years ago to an average of 250 today.

"There is a need out there," Brumagin said. "There are thousands that need day care."

As a result, the YMCA has also started a pilot program to serve the day-care needs of low-income parents. The program will offer less expensive day care to parents of children who attend La Merced and Eastmont elementary schools. The details of the discount are being worked out, Brumagin said.

He said that only parents whose children attend La Merced and Eastmont schools would be eligible for the pilot program, based on their income and number of children, until he can determine whether the Y can afford to subsidize a low-cost program without jeopardizing the financing of its current day-care program.

Darline P. Robles, the assistant superintendent of pupil and community services for the school district, said that once the YMCA and the city have the details of their proposals ironed out, the board will give its final go-ahead.

After the pilot programs have operated for one year, they will be evaluated by the district, the city and YMCA officials, she said.

"It's a great project for all three agencies to be involved in, and we hope to at least meet some of the need," Robles said. "I know we are not going to be able to meet all the need, but it's a beginning."

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