Today’s news:

Shift in day care challenged

“Just where are we going to go?”

That was the clear-cut question voiced Tuesday as Park Slope City Councilmember Bill de Blasio, Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum and dozens of concerned parents clogged the steps of City Hall, demanding to know just how the city plans to institute bold plans to remove five year olds from the city’s day care system.

De Blasio alleged that the city’s Department of Education (DOE) and the Administration of Children’s Services (ACS) announced their intentions to remove the children from city-run day care rolls last November. The parents of these children, city officials said, are being encouraged to enroll their children in area public schools.

Since then, however, no one has been given any specifics about the upcoming move, even though 3,000 children — many of them from Brooklyn — will be affected.

The children are expected to be relocated in the next school year, which is just seven months away.

On Tuesday, parents said that they have more questions than answers about the move. They said they have no idea which schools their children will be sent to. Nor do they know what services — if any -- would be provided to the children after school hours.

Many parents protesting on the steps of city hall said that the city-run day care centers were a blessing because the children could stay there until well after 5 p.m., when they get out of work.

Since almost no specifics have been relayed regarding this new plans, parents do not know if they will have to leave work early to pick up their children or not.

De Blasio said that neither agency has commented on how they will handle overcrowding at public schools because of this move.

If the city continues to drag their feet on this issue, the 3,000 children given their walking papers will “just slip through the cracks,” he said.

“The ACS and DOE cannot stall any longer,” he said. “Parents, their children, and the public need to know what the City plans to do with these five year olds.”

“In our current economy, parents can’t afford to take time off work to find alternate care for their children,” Public Advocate Gotbaum said. “ACS needs to explain how it will accommodate these children and their parents. Working families rely on these day care centers and deserve clear answers from the city.”

De Blasio said that his office had sent letters to both the ACS and the DOE regarding their plans for these children, but have yet to receive a reply.

Both agencies has also refused to appear at an oversight hearing conducted by de Blasio’s General Welfare Committee, claiming that they were too busy to testify.

ACS has claimed that DOE has the capability to absorb the five year olds, but still has not explained just how they will do it. 

A spokesperson for the ACS said that the upcoming change was brought on by budgetary constraints.

“The $62 million deficit in our child care budget means that we have had to make budgetary and programmatic changes in order to continue serving as many families with young children as possible, many of whom have no other options while their parents work,” ACS spokesperson Sheila Stainback said in a statement. “We can no longer afford to offer the option used by some parents until now to enroll their five year olds in Children’s Services contracted child care centers.”

“To be clear —all five-year-olds currently enrolled in the 2008-2009 school year in the contracted centers will finish out the year,” she continued. “There will be no disruption for these children. Starting this September 2009, however, families will no longer have the option to enroll their 5 year olds in contracted child care centers.  Children’s Services is encouraging these families to enroll their children in public elementary schools. We are providing these families with information about the enrollment process for public school, and we are working with the Department of Education to ensure that these children are accommodated.”

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