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Fatema Varsi for Spectator

Local kids at Harbor Morningside Children’s Center on 120th Street, may not have this city-sponsored service for much longer. New York City’s Administration for Children’s Services announced that budget woes may force a shutdown of day care centers citywide.

Without child care, Donna Williams, who has a nine-year-old son and a three-year-old in preschool, said she would have to take a break from her education. And for Williams, this nightmare could soon become a reality in Morningside Heights, with her local day care center facing termination. Harbor Morningside Children's Center, located on 120th Street east of Manhattan Avenue, is one of 15 child care centers that the city announced would likely close by the end of the school year due to budget cuts. This local center, funded entirely by New York City's Administration for Children's Services—the agency that oversees child care and child protection—includes a preschool and an after-school program for elementary school students. It serves a total of about 90 children from low-income families. In response to budget woes, the city is shutting down some of these services throughout the city to save millions of dollars. And as parents and neighborhood residents worry about the loss of child care space, Harbor Morningside administrators and ACS officials tell very different stories about how the school, and its parent organization, not-for-profit Boys and Girls Harbor, were informed of the pending shutdown. Closure confusion Harbor Morningside Director Rory Scott said he first heard the school might be closed at an ACS meeting on Jan. 29. "My boss and myself were very surprised to hear it, and asked people we knew from ACS if they knew anything about it, but they didn't know. We spent a week trying to get information, but didn't get any," he said. But ACS Director of Communications Sharman Stein said in an email that ACS had spoken to Boys and Girls Harbor Executive Director Michael Marrone on Jan. 28. "The sponsoring organization, Boys and Girls Harbor, in fact welcomed the consolidation for its own reasons— and was responsible for communicating with the center director. The executive director said he had no issue with the closing," Stein said. Stein added that the closing might have happened without city intervention at all. "In fact he [Marrone] was planning to contact ACS in Feb. to discuss Boys and Girls Harbor restructuring of its services, which will include downsizing and consolidating ACS child care services [closing sites]," she said. Scott, however, said he was surprised to hear that Boys and Girls Harbor had any intention of shutting the center down. "That's news to me. Another site is closing because the landlord tripled the rent, maybe they thought he was referring to that. I don't like to say that people are lying, but I just don't know whether that was the case," he said. Bernadette Wallace, the director of day care services for Boys and Girls Harbor, said that nothing about the situation was clear. "Marrone is trying to get additional information. Right now it's all rumors, and we don't like rumors, we like specifics. I know he's put in several calls, whether he's received calls back I don't know," she said. Marrone could not be reached for comment on Thursday. But all parties agreed that without city funding, the Morningside day care could not exist. Teacher Keisha Kennedy from the center said, "ACS pays for the children to come and pays the rent. If they say they won't, we have no other option. We have 20 staff without jobs and 99 children without a school." Choosing Morningside Stein said that ACS had looked to close centers that have empty seats to consolidate neighborhood services, and Scott, Morningside's director, acknowledged that the site was not operating at full capacity. "We have had some issues with enrollment," Scott said, explaining that the city stopped funding kindergarten classes, which meant that all pre-K students had to leave the center. Neighborhood residents said that other local day care centers exist, but that Morningside Harbor is known for its quality. Stephanie Dubsky, who lives close to the center, said, "The good places have long waiting lists, and some others are just not good. Of course there are options, but they might not be good options." Patrice Eaton, who lives a block from the center, said that Harbor Morningside has helped fill in the gaps created by other neighborhood after-school programs slashed by budget cuts. "There are a lot of centers, but that's the biggest. A lot of neighborhood kids go there," she said, adding that the center also serves many Senegalese immigrants. Scott said that 75 percent of children have West African immigrant parents. Though the city council still has to approve the budget cuts in early March, the ACS said they were moving ahead with the plans to shut the center down. Stein said that they will soon begin to communicate with parents and present them with other child care options, including vouchers for private child care providers. "In the coming months, ACS will be reaching out to each center and enrollment will be frozen," she said in an email. No other options? Scott said he had sent a letter to parents letting them know about the possible closure, and the response was intense. "We have many second and third-generation parents here who are very upset," he said. Williams, who has two children in the program, said she was worried that if the site shut down, she would be unable to find child care for her youngest son even if the city provided vouchers. Of the closest other day care centers, she said, "They don't take vouchers, so we'd have to travel far out of our way. I'll have to stay home, stop everything, work and school, for a year. And that would slow me down It's hard to improve your life, improve your education without child care." Kennedy said that the school hopes to reach out to local politicians to fight the closure. Lynette Velasco, spokesperson for City Councilmember Inez Dickens, said that while she hadn't yet received a specific inquiry from Morningside Harbor, day care is an important issue for her office. "The councilmember had been advocating about cutbacks in day care centers for the last year. It's important for kids to get a good foundation, and it allows people to work, especially in this economy ... It's a very, very serious issue," Velasco said. Stein acknowledged that closing day care centers is upsetting to the neighborhood, but said the city's hands are tied by the budget problems. "The people are emotional about losing their local child care centers because people hate to lose their local services. Parents want the known entity that they are used to and trust. She added, "While child care centers are an essential service, its really hard to find money for it in tough times."

day care Inez Dickens City Council