Parents Angered By Choices Offered
By Brian Donahue
Faced down by some 75 angry parents and community members, city officials last night delayed making steep cuts and privatizing the city's public pre-school.
Boisterous parents booed City Manager Patrick O'Keeffe after he chided parents for being 'too emotional.' "You need to be realistic here," Mr. O'Keeffe said.
The outbursts followed an official presentation from city officials explaining that the city's pre-school on 53rd Street, officially called the Emeryville Child Development Center, must be turned over to a private operator to cut costs.
Officials have been slashing budgets and trimming services from the center for many years. Several years ago, funding was cut and the most experienced, and consequently highest paid, 'Master Teachers' were let go. In 2005, the city council terminated the infant program at the center. Councilwomen Nora Davis and Ruth Atkin said the city could "no longer afford" day-care services for infants. The ensuing controversy led Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis to replace some of the funding, with the stipulation that the children of the company's employees get priority for any open spaces. The Novartis campus, formerly Chiron, is just down the block from the center.
To quiet Tuesday's crowd, which appeared to be growing volatile, Councilwoman Nora Davis rose to praise the center, after spending years trying to bury it. The performance, according to one observer, was worthy of Shakespeare.
Ms. Davis, who Tuesday called the center one of Emeryville's "jewels" has voted against it at every opportunity.
Omitted from the official presentation of stark budget realities, tied financial hands and heavy hearts, was any mention of plans to construct a $125 million super-building to house a new high school, junior high school, elementary school, senior center and recreation center. Plans for the so-called Center of Community Life are moving ahead despite the city and school district's financial problems.
Parents received no answer from Ms. Davis, Ms. Atkin or Mr. O'Keeffe as to why their oft stated commitment to the education of all children excludes the city's youngest learners. Mr. O'Keeffe, however did say that the city is forbidden from using any of the Redevelopment Agency's copious cash for actual human needs. Those millions and millions can apparently only be used to subsidize more shopping malls and office buildings and are forbidden to be spent on any operational costs. One parent demanded to know why the city couldn't get money for the center as part of a development agreement before projects are approved. There was no response from any city official.
Whether city officials have the brains or the cajones to recover some funding back from developers to help pay for programs like the city's pre-school, remains to be seen.