Cares about child care

Re: “District looks at trimming child-care teachers” in the April 2 L.A. Times

“The deletion of up to three dozen positions is scheduled to occur July 1, as part of an overall restructuring of the school-age child-care program … [reported] at Thursday’s round of negotiations.”

“Administration would fill the positions with less-qualified workers, according to a plan laid out by child-care Program Director Nancy Cohen and other district officials.”

Why wasn’t this problem addressed and reported in the newspapers during the recent discussions of fiscal calamities under the supervision of Mr. Art Cohen in the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District.?

When Nancy Cohen moved to the position of program director some five or six years ago, there was a $500,000 surplus in the child-care program. After raising prices to parents, and setting other policies that resulted in lower enrollments in the program, we currently have a $330,000 deficit. The anticipated deficit for next year is $750,000.

Over the six years Ms. Cohen has made the decisions, the number of state-subsidized students has gone from 20 to about eight. Instead of increasing the number of state-subsidies available, even when we’ve opened a new school in Malibu, Ms. Cohen has decreased the number of state subsidies available.

In the 1998-1999 school year, after canceling the early Kindergarten express program, Ms. Cohen complained about a declined enrollment.

Cutting the hours of the child-care providers and lowering their qualifications in order to lower costs may not be a viable solution.

When you cut back on the number of hours of hourly employees, you tend to have desperate employees — desperate to pay the rent, the gas or transportation costs, food, etc. They will be worrying about the financials for daily living and will not be able to fully concentrate on their job with the students. They will not be able to supervise as well or to give any extra instruction or assistance to the students, and may not be able to guide and counsel the students appropriately.

For example, when I substituted for a preschool teacher, my assistant arrived late, and was tired and hungry. She held three jobs. One in Malibu, one in the Valley, and one in West L.A. When each job is two to three hours, what else can one do? She did not do a proper job with the kids — she was tired and hungry. She scarfed down quite a bit of the center-provided food for the children. Under the circumstances, I did not want to report her; she was making the best of a bad situation. She needed what has become a cause celebre in Santa Monica in the “living wage.” She needed a full-time job that paid sufficiently that she could purchase her own food, and that did not require her to spend hours of uncompensated time on the freeways and highways getting to her jobs. A couple of the students needed special assistance and guidance; she was unable to provide this. I was unable to because there were 20 preschoolers with only one functioning adult.

If the providers are less qualified, the students are likely to not be supervised appropriately. It’s easy and doesn’t require much knowledge to discipline students with spankings and sitting or tying them in a chair. We continue to hear about abused kids in the newspapers. It takes knowledge and experience to know how to deal appropriately with unacceptable behavior; to know various nonviolent options to correct behavior and set the student on the right path.

A surprising number of “special education students” are in the after-school program. We have ADHD, autistic, retarded, physically and mentally impaired, etc. A few of the kids are violent and have attacked other children and the providers. The adult-to-student ratio is not adjusted to reflect this additional burden on the providers.

Less qualified providers will lead to few students in after-school care. The parents will see it immediately and won’t put up with it. They’ll remove their students.

Maybe the report in the newspaper that “Union leaders blame the deficit on fiscal mismanagement and top-heavy administration” is the correct assessment.

Iona Blackwell

The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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