Parents are upset that the city has cut funding for the Meriden Women and Families Center’s School Readiness Program, and the center is asking for a public meeting on the matter.
The center claims that it was taken by surprise by the School Readiness Council’s decision to end the program on Aug. 24, a decision it says “was made at a meeting that was not announced to the public and was held in secret.”
Not so, says Mayor Kevin Scarpati, who co-chairs the council with School Superintendent Mark Benigni.
“We have been repeatedly in conversations with” officials of the Women and Families Center, he said, “specifically regarding the quality of their program” over a period of two years. “With the lack of improvement that we’ve seen, it was a unanimous decision by the School Readiness Council” to remove the funding.
With feelings running high, with the two sides being so far apart on the facts of the matter, and with concern over the preschool education of scores of children in the forefront, an open meeting sounds like a very good idea.
The council voted on June 20 to cut $553,288 in funding for 62 School Readiness day care spaces. The city’s total funding for the day care programs, which is provided by the state, has not been cut.
The decision effectively lays off WFC Director of Childcare Karen Yorker and 10 teachers at the center, but the council says all those children can be accommodated at other day cares in the city.
The decision certainly comes as a blow to those who stand to be laid off, and to parents who are satisfied with the program and have become familiar with the teachers at the center.
As for a public meeting, “We are working on trying to set something up if we deem it appropriate to do so,” said city Corporation Counsel Michael Quinn.
We can well understand how those who are most directly affected (that is, the teachers and parents) have been shocked by a sudden decision coming down from on high, with little or no warning.
That impression, however, does not jibe with the mayor’s account of long-term discussions and consultations that he says have taken place between the School Readiness Council and the Women and Families Center.
The finger-pointing has already begun, and there will likely be more, but what’s needed in this situation right now is more transparency, and a public meeting may be the only way to achieve that goal.
In the process, the public may learn more about the School Readiness Council, a body that many residents may not know about and one that is not mentioned on the city’s website.
Whatever happens, we trust that everyone involved will keep their eyes on what must be the top priority: the welfare of those 62 kids and their need to be in a top-quality program.