Bettering Plainfield with the facts since 2005

Friday, June 19, 2015

Sorting out Bilingual Day Care issues

There's a while lot that needs to go into figuring out
who's who and what's what in the Bilingual Day Care story.

Though Plainfield's City Council and the public spent more than two hours discussing the Bilingual Day Care Center at Tuesday's business meeting, the impression was one of more heat than light, when all was said and done.

The future of the Bilingual Day Care Center (BDCC) is a gnarly issue, tangled by groups with differing -- and sometimes conflicting -- agendas, a history of a forward-looking organization overtaken by Plainfield's demographic shift, and the need of 21st century local governments to focus on core services in order to keep tax bloat at bay.

There were several efforts to mobilize residents to come out and discuss the issue -- among them Bilingual Day Care staff and parents, Neighborhood House supporters, supporters of HOPES (the city's Headstart provider), and those responding to a Facebook post by resident -- and candidate for City Council -- Norman Ortega (see here).

Resident -- and City Council candidate -- Norman Ortega
falsely accused the Mapp administration of planning to
close the Bilingual Day Care Center in this Facebook post.
(Click to enlarge or print.)

Let's begin with Mr. Ortega, who is perhaps best known for abandoning his post as a commissioner on the Plainfield Advisory Commission on Hispanic Affairs (PACHA). His Facebook post calls people to attend to "prevent the Mapp administration from closing the bilingual daycare" -- something which is simply untrue.

As can be seen from the agenda item, the discussion was about "transitioning" Bilingual to a non-city entity. There is no proposal to close Bilingual Day Care.

(This is not the first time Mr. Ortega has bent the facts to suit his fantasies. Most recently, he accused the Mapp administration of discriminating against Latinos in appointments to the Citizens Budget Advisory Commission, ignoring the fact that the appointments were made by individual councilors, with each naming one person to the CBAC. When a Latina was named by a laggard councilor, he crowed it was a victory over Mapp, but conveniently omitted to mention she is an employee of Assemblyman Jerry Green and could be expected to give him a blow-by-blow report on the committee's deliberations. And there is more, this is just a sample.)


When BDCC was begun in 1977, with the late Paul O'Keeffe as mayor and champion, Plainfield's Latino population was at about 10%. There were no day care facilities offering a bilingual Spanish/English environment. As Councilor Taylor rightly pointed out, BDCC was a trailblazer.

That was then, this is now. Plainfield is well over 40% Latino and heading towards becoming a majority Latino community. Bilingual services to the toddlers and pre-schoolers are now the norm and not the exception.

Under New Jersey's Abbott districts court orders, BDCC has benefited by having about half its children included in that settlement, which, however, has brought complicating management issues of its own.

BDCC continues to make a solid contribution to daycare and early childhood education in Plainfield, but it is no longer the solitary point of light it once was.

There are literally scores of daycare providers in Plainfield.

The Plainfield Public Schools lists twenty on its website (see here) that qualify for free daycare under the Abbott District guidelines. The list includes four sites for HOPES, and two for Neighborhood House.

For a more exhaustive list of daycare providers -- most of whom are not part of the Abbott Districts coverage -- see the website of Childcare Centers.US here.

Families and Kids. For many families, childcare is a constant worry, and the thought of losing a space because of the closure of a program is a panicky thought. All the more reason to be wary of someone like Norman Ortega, who plays fast and loose with the truth in order to advance what appears to be a personal agenda.

The Bilingual Day Care Center is not in danger of being closed, and Ortega should be ashamed for what he wrote. On the other hand, the parents of children in the program could have been better informed about what is afoot -- especially since it appears the BDCC staff shaded the news with its own perspective on the matter. It is of primary importance that the families who use the program get timely, accurate and relevant information about what is happening.

BDCC Staff. The BDCC staff has a "dog in this fight", so to speak. Their jobs are in play as the program transitions to new sponsorship. This can cause great anxiety and lead to attempts to mobilize the families who use the center as proxies for the staff in the transition discussion.

This could be seen in the way the options for the existing staff were mischaracterized in the public discussion at the Council meeting and in the way that staff disguised their concerns over their own fate and concerns "for the children".

The children will do just fine under a new sponsor. So what else can we be talking about?

Part of the difficulty for staff arises from the hybrid sources of funding and administration. About half BDCC's children are covered by the Abbott Districts settlement which covers everything from required certifications of employees, activities to be provided, salary and wage guidelines and more.

The staff for the half of children not covered by the Abbott Districts ruling do not have the same certification requirements. The wages of the uncertified employees do not square up with those in the daycare field generally (they are much more generous), providing an incentive to balk at any proposed changes in the situation.

What would be more helpful would be for the BDCC employees to acknowledge their conflicts here and be more straightforward in the discussions.

It is just possible that the way they have gone about it has soured the Mapp administration on making any effort at smoothing the way for staffers.

Daycare Providers. The Mapp administration is proposing to transition the BDCC by hiring HOPES to manage the process, projected to take up to two school years.

At last week's agenda-setting session, Neighborhood House executive director Carol Presley sharply criticized the plan, saying it was unfair to give the contract to an "outsider" organization.

That language was used when ho HOPES representative was in the room. Presley changed her tune considerably this past week, with a HOPES vice president in attendance. Now, Presley says, she is only concerned that there be an RFP process and that any interested and qualified organization can make a pitch for the contract.

Councilor Taylor had high praise for HOPES -- perhaps because she knows of them from another context (she did not say) -- but attempted to waffle by throwing a few rose in the direction of Neighborhood House also (saying "they have been around forever").

One thing can be said with certainty if the city decides to issue an RFP: the price will go up, perhaps astronomically. And that is because each organization's response to the RFP will attempt to cover every possible contingency -- all with an associated cost -- thereby inflating the final price and leaving the City (and the Council too, as they have to ratify any deal) to choose between several overpriced alternatives.

Taxpayers. Lost in the shuffle are Plainfield's poor, longsuffering taxpayers, who are currently shelling out in excess of $140,000 to cover BDCC overhead in excess of grants and reimbursements.

The Mapp administration is trying to look out for all the parties involved, but -- most challengingly -- to keep the taxpayers from getting the short end of the stick.


BDCC employees made a pitch for what they see as "fair" in their remarks before the Council. As they see it, the BDCC employees should decide on the entity to manage the transition.

What is "fair" depends on your viewpoint.

But we also have to ask: Whose responsibility is it, by law, to make the decisions here?

Truth of the matter: It is the Mapp administration's responsibility to come up with a workable plan of transition -- no one, including employees or parents, is denying their needs to be one -- to which the Council will assent.

The Council, in its wisdom, tabled the resolution last Tuesday. This will give the Mapp administration an opportunity to try to build a consensus on going forward,

But, as Administration & Finance Director Ron West pointed out, the delay will have a ripple effect, leaving the Plainfield School District scrambling with what to do before September, and with implementation of the transition plan shove back to October or November.
Meanwhile, the taxpayers have yet to weigh in. Perhaps the Council should assume they don't care?

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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