Thursday, January 23, 2003

Day-care center at high school may be forced to close

The Associated Press

SPRINGFIELD, Ohio - When school lets out at Springfield South High School, Renae Walker walks downstairs to the basement to pick up her 7-month-old daughter.

Ms. Walker is one of 11 girls in the district who participate in the Learning Center, a day-care center and transportation program for teen parents. The program is designed to keep teen mothers in school, but the district said it can't afford the $104,000 it costs a year.

The center was closed earlier this month, but reopened two days later. The district will keep the center open through the end of this school year and will make a decision on its future then.

The program is open to any Springfield student with a child who is between 4 weeks and 3 years old. A van provides transportation and the cafeteria provides lunches. Students don't pay anything, but have to attend school regularly, pass their classes, enroll in a parenting program and stay out of trouble.

Senior Candace Johnson is fighting to save the program for other students.

"I get no child support, no welfare and I'm going to make it," she said. "But I'm angry; because if they change this place, lots of others won't get a chance. What about all them?"

School officials said they will study the program and are confident it will continue in some form, perhaps at an off-site location. But they said the main issue is money.

The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services and other social-service agencies reimburse the center on a per-child, per-day basis, providing about $80,000 to help pay for supplies and five staff members.

If enrollment declines or when babies don't attend, funding drops proportionately but expenses don't. That has created a $60,000 deficit, said Frank Schiraldi, the district's director of school improvement.

Angela Howard, a teacher at the school, has more than a casual interest in seeing the program remain.

She was a South student when her son Adrian was born in 1990. Without the program, Ms. Howard said she wouldn't have finished school.

"There's no question I would have been a dropout," she said. "Having it all right here - getting to come rock him to sleep during my study halls - that kept me going."

Donna Holt, who helped start the center in 1987, doesn't want to see it go.

"People need to ask, `How much does it cost society later if we won't do something to get these girls an education?'" Ms. Holt said.

Debbie Stewart, whose son goes to South and whose great-niece is involved in the program, thinks the program should end. She's started a petition to urge the board to stop supporting the program.

"I agree these girls should stay in school," Ms. Stewart said, "but it's not the school's responsibility to have staff watch their babies."

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