Weathering the recession by cutting costs is not an option for child-care centers, authorities said. Child care is not a lucrative business; most of the money collected from parents goes to pay the teachers, who receive little more than minimum wage, they said. As the child-care profession strives to improve its quality, teachers' salaries must go up, not down, they argue.
Linda Tullius adds her voice to the argument. Before her School for Beginning Years in Whittier closed, she charged $65 a week for child care that might cost $125 elsewhere. The teachers were subsidizing the other $60 by accepting "unlivable wages," with no health benefits, no paid sick leave, no vacations, she said. Located in a blue-collar section of Whittier, the school could not charge more.
Tullius said she scraped by, taking no pay herself, until the recession caused enrollment to drop so low that the $65 charge did not cover teachers' salaries. That happened last September, after 40 of the oldest preschoolers graduated to kindergarten. No new students enrolled.
It broke her heart to close the preschool, Tullius said, so she tried to sell the property to the city or an agency that would run a subsidized child-care program for low-income parents. She could find no takers. Along the way, a developer heard the property was available.
"This is where I had all my birthday parties when I was growing up. This is the homestead. Now, they're going to tear it down and build apartments," said Tullius, who is starting a business as a child-care consultant.
On the final day the school was open, Tullius held one last party. The 11 remaining students colored table cloths and decorated the yard with crepe paper. Guests included former students and teachers, including Tullius' 83-year-old aunt and co-founder of the school, Mary Wallace.
"I'm surprised at how sad I am today," Tullius said as she prepared for the party. "I thought I had cried all my tears. Usually, when my kids leave me, more come in right behind them. But when they leave today, that's it."
CONSUMER SPENDING \o7 The following is a breakdown in average annual household expenditures for a family of 2.7 people in 1988. It is based on a before-tax income of $28,540: \f7
Housing $8,079 28.3% Transportation $5,093 17.8% Food $3,748 13.1% Taxes $2,391 8.4% Child care $2,080 7.3% Pensions, Social Security $1,935 6.8% Apparel and Services $1,489 5.2% Entertainment $1,329 4.7% Health Care $1,298 4.5% Misc. $1,098 3.8% Total $28,540 100%
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics and Bureau of the Census