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Parents Organize to Save Woodstock Child Development Center Programs

Alameda parents are organizing to find a solution to the funding problems faced by the Woodstock Child Development Center (WCDC) infant, toddler, and school-age before and after school care programs. Action Alameda News talked to three parents about their efforts to keep the programs running in the event that State of California funding is cut.

Much of the organizing is being done by Caroline Topeé (pronounced “tow-pay”), mother of 7-year old Jovanna Topeé. Jovanna was in the Henry Haight WCDC program last year but over the summer, her mother enrolled her in a Girl’s Inc. program for after-school care for this year, because of the uncertainty surrounding the WCDC programs. According to Caroline, the WCDC program is the only before-school option at Henry Haight Elementary school. Now, Caroline Topeé, who was recently laid-off from her job as an office manager in vessel management, is paying for both the WCDC and Girls Inc. programs for her daughter, while also looking for work and trying to find a solution for before-school childcare for herself, and other parents.

Caroline told Action Alameda News, “Some of us parents are looking to find larger sources of funding to help keep the programs open. There should be something that’s a backup. I’d like the Alameda Unified School District to find some money to keep these programs going – but they’re kind of leaving it to us to find an answer. Childcare choices are limited as you go West in Alameda. Parents want consistent childcare options for their kids, for a stable learning environment.” Her back-to-work options are limited to part-time jobs, instead of full-time, she says, because AUSD supervision at the elementary schools doesn’t start until 8:10 a.m. and in her line of work, employers expect her to start at 8:00 a.m.

Caroline Topeé and Jovanna Topeé

Alameda parents Rick Jones and Susan Mueller pulled their son, John, age 7, who goes by the name of “Teddy,” out of Alameda’s public school system for this year, and enrolled him in Oakland, where his mother teaches, because of the uncertainty over the WCDC programs. Rick and Susan didn’t want to have to transition John to a new school in the middle of the year if the WCDC programs were ultimately cut. Teddy was going to Henry Haight Elementary.

Rick said, “Prior to last year, the first year of WCDC at Henry Haight school, there was the YMCA, and the principal decided not to renew the YMCA contract, and bring in WCDC instead. They did have something in place, and then brought in the WCDC, only to possibly have it gone after one year.”

Rick Jones and Teddy Jones

Rick and Susan too are concerned about inequities in childcare options for parents in different parts of Alameda. “If you live on the East side of Park Street there is before and after care through Girls, Inc. and another program for boys, even if they are expensive,” said Susan. “If you live on the Western side of Alameda the choices are really limited. If the school District’s motto is equity and excellence for all students, isn’t the school District going to make sure there is some equitable solution for everyone?”

(As this article was being prepared for publication, the Alameda Unified School District acknowledged in a press release that 29%, or 5 out of 17, of the District’s schools failed to meet the State target of 800 on the 2010 API test score evaluations.)

Like Caroline, Rick, an Office Manager in San Francisco, is worried about the impact on his job of the demise of before-school childcare programs. “If you start work at 8:30 a.m. in San Francisco – what do you without before-school childcare?” he said. “In this job environment, I’m afraid to ask for changes to my work schedule to accomodate my children. I work in a small company, directly for the owner. If my work hours are pushed back, my company’s at risk, because I’m a first point of contact for customers and accounts. Really, it’s my job at risk.”

As part of her organizing, Caroline is handing out a two-page memo titled “WCDC Issues and Concerns of the Parents.” According to the document, many parents have contacted her to tell her that they were not formally notified of the potential WCDC closures. Instead, only the parents of children enrolled in the summer WCDC program at Ruby Bridges Elementary School got a notice letter which was left on the counter by the sign-in sheet. The memo also says that parents were discouraged from speaking out during a public comment time slot at a June AUSD Board of Education meeting and turned away.

At the August 24th Board of Education Meeting, School Board Trustees voted 4-1 to spend roughly $100,000 of AUSD General Fund money to keep the childcare programs going for another 45 days, into October, in hopes that a State budget that provides funding is finalized by them. (Trustee Mike McMahon voted against the resolution.)

Caroline Topeé said that she continues to look for work, and try to organize the parents and advocate for other financing solutions, possibly from private sources, to support the programs. “Basically, I’m stuck in limbo. And this could go until November, or longer, until the State budget is signed,” she said.

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