2010-02-12 / Front Page

Two Day Care Centers Caught In Budget Crunch

By Miriam Rosenberg

Parents and staff members meet at the Sheldon R. Weaver Daycare Center on Monday evening to develop plans to save it and the Hammels-Arverne Day Care Center from being closed due to budget cuts. Parents and staff members meet at the Sheldon R. Weaver Daycare Center on Monday evening to develop plans to save it and the Hammels-Arverne Day Care Center from being closed due to budget cuts. As a cost cutting measure, two of Rockaway’s nine day care centers are slated to close in June, The Wave has learned.

City officials identified the two centers, which together care for more than 100 children each day, as the Sheldon R. Weaver Day Care Center on Redfern Avenue and Hammels-Arverne Day Care Center on Beach 87 Street.

While the two have been targets for extinction, officials say that their closing is not a done deal.

“This is a preliminary budget,” Sharman Stein, the director of communications for the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS), said. “It’s not approved. The city council has to approve what we proposed in the budget.”

At an emergency meeting at Sheldon R. Weaver Daycare Center on Monday evening, its director announced the possible closure to surprised parents and laid out a battle plan to save Weaver. In addition to writing letters and making calls to elected officials, plans are being made for rallies in front of her center as well as at City Hall. Petitions were also passed around for parents.

“We are not sitting idly by. We’re going to have community signatures,” Arlene Cauley, the director of Sheldon R. Weaver, told parents. “We want to generate thousands and thousands of signatures [from where you work and worship].”

The centers currently targeted are direct-lease, meaning the city and not the organization running the center pays the rent on the lease.

“The city runs, through ACS, 339 children centers,” said Stein. “All are run under contract by a not-for-profit. One hundred and fifteen are direct lease. We did these leases 20 years ago. They’re very expensive, [ranging from] $150,000 to $400,000 [per year] and they’re coming due. We looked where we could cut while not taking away services from any child. We looked where there is another center close by or by consolidation.”

Stein explained that although centers would be closed, no slots would be lost.

“Every child served [will go to a center] nearby or by voucher.”

Randi Herman, of the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, and Cauley believe otherwise.

“History shows us that once a center closes, it never opens its door again,” said Herman. “Once the child-care slots are lost, and let me be clear the slots here aren’t being transferred anywhere, once this place closes its doors the slots go with it.”

Among those attending the meeting was the director of Hammels-Arverne Day Care Center, Patricia Harris, who said ACS has plans to consolidate her center with one in the Beach 40s area. Both directors found out about the proposed closings from sources other than ACS.

Harris received a letter and email from the teacher’s union district council 1707, local 205. The same union also told Cauley when she took a phone message for the shop steward at the center.

“They said, OK, but it’s a very sad message. Your day care center is slated to close,” said Cauley.

Sheldon R. Weaver Day Care Center, which Cauley says serves 90 and is the largest day care center on the east end of Rockaway, opened in 1972. Hammels-Arverne serves 55 children.

Harris and Cauley both believe there is a great need for day care in the Rockaways. They said the centers give parents a chance to leave their children in a safe environment and a place for early learning. At the same time, parents can go to work or school as they try to better themselves.

While neither center has been told the specific reason it has been chosen to close, four criteria were used in determining which facilities would be shut. They were: cost and duration of leases; condition of buildings or need for repairs; under-enrollment at some sites or unused capacity; and the need for child care in the community.

Stein said it “absolutely was not true,” in response to Cauley’s claim that ACS had not visited her center within the last year to make its determination. However, she was unable to address the exact date by this newspaper’s deadline.

“ACS had recently been to see the center,” said Stein. “We access all of them as part of the process.”

Stein would not say what determined the final decision to close the two local centers.

“I’m not going to discuss those [at this time],” she said.

Following the Monday meeting Cauley and others met with Councilman James Sanders Jr. to discuss the situation.

In addition to urging those involved to begin their fight immediately, Sanders said he is a big believer in privileged classes.

“The very young and the very old are privileged classes,” said Sanders. “They should be held harmless in these battles.”

Queens has a total of 63 day care centers according to the ACS website. The new budget has Queens losing three of them, two in Rockaway. Sanders questioned the reason why the peninsula was being targeted for two-thirds of the loss.

“Why am I over-impacted?” asked Sanders. “Why do I have two out of three?”

In the meantime, parents left the meeting not knowing what comes next.

Daphney Budley of Dix Avenue, was carrying her son Brendan, 2, out of the meeting when she told The Wave she didn’t know what she would do if the center closed.

“Right now I got to fight for my job and fight for my day care,” said Budley.

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