Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Westchester County Counts on Rob Astorino to get the Math Right on Childcare Subsidies

On November 29th, the Cortlandt Town Hall held the Westchester County Budget Hearings to a standing room only turnout. The largest contingent came from parents, teachers and children who have been affected by cuts to childcare subsidies over the last several years.  With the recent national trend of aligning fiscal considerations to actual arithmetic, I thought I might tie some emotion to the issue to help the County Executive add the numbers. 

Working part-time at Mt. Kisco Childcare certainly biases my feelings, but I didn’t need to suffer through differential equations in college to know it cost more to place parents on welfare when they must quit their jobs because childcare is being denied them. 

As straightforward as it gets, how else am I to go to make a case – especially when enough of Westchester succumbs to less than logical thinking to justify their math. “The stereotypical view of the person getting subsidies is they are in rehab, getting free housing and collecting food stamps as they sit at home,” said Donna Morrison, Early Childhood Director of the Guidance Center, “but the typical parent on subsidy works full time, often goes to school and just wants a safe place to send their kids.”  

Regardless, I don’t really consider the origins of anyone’s payment as I go about my day.  Navigating my way around and through the whims of my crafty after schoolers is what occupies my attention. 

In fact, I’m going use this platform to state that another result of the austerity is I have not had a raise in two years. As selfish as that sounds, especially in the wake of others far more in need, I must mention I do often question how I could possibly be paid for having so much fun. 

I shouldn’t give the County Executive any ideas. Instead, I’ll introduce him to a five year old preschooler named Tyler. That, in part, because teachers have a tendency to gravitate towards kids who they see something of themselves in.

Like me, now and at that age, Tyler has a big bald (or actually crew cut styled) head with ears that affectionately jut out. Bound together by equally good looks, Tyler seems to be as attuned to the connection as me, and he does not contain his optimism when our paths cross between the two programs.  

Pushing his hand out and up into a stationary position, he’ll get my attention with a “Hey, Hey…Hey, Hey, Hey.”  Following suit, I now do the same when it’s me who trying to get a response. 

But my favorite interaction happens at the end of each day. Usually engaged in our gross motor room with my kids in indoor soccer, basketball or make shift hockey, he’s just slipping into that space where kids switch from the teacher’s control to a parent’s. In that void, he takes the opportunity to rush from the classroom and inject himself in my game. “There’s my boy,” I caution the after schoolers to slow down.

Following suit, Tyler now returns a “hey my boy” to me, and again I have to remind myself that I actually get paid to do this. 

Better yet, I'd like to invite the County Executive - and those who stand to benefit politically of policy that makes no fiscal sense - to come by. They might be swayed in deference to poor SAT math scores but there’s more to this the infectiousness of Tyler’s game. 

For as long as I have noticed Tyler, his ride home has always been his grandfather. I’ve never asked about the specifics of his home life but you can’t help speculate.

Is his grandfather raising him alone? Is there a single mom awaiting Tyler at home?  Is Dad in the picture? Are both Mom and Dad absent? And how does grandpa, who clearly isn’t confined to the lighter duties of simply being a grandfather, manage to keep up with such an energetic little guy?

On Thursday, those questions were answered. A young woman named Stephanie Houghtaling stepped to the podium and introduced herself as a single mom from my center. Having never seen her before, I was surprised that I didn’t know every parent at the daycare. 

She went on to detail how MKCCC helped her get her son enrolled and navigate all the hoops that go with it. As a result and in accordance with county subsidies, she can continue to work, go to school and build a better life.

Just as importantly, not having to worry whether her child is safe and happy allows her to rise to the everyday challenges we all face.  “He even asks why he can’t go to school on Saturdays,” she revealed as proof. 

I would later learn from Dawn Meyerski, director of curriculum at the center, that when Tyler joined us, Mom was embroiled in a special education nightmare. “Tyler came to us having a lot to say, but nobody could understand any of it,” said Meyerski.

Having a hard time getting Speech Therapy for him, MKCCC got Tyler the right services and will not likely require any special education upon entering Kindergarten. 

I wonder if the County Executive will add those savings to his calculations but somewhere in the course of Mom’s plea and my scribbling, she said, “My Dad comes to pick him up everyday and….”

Taken aback, this was obviously Tyler’s mom, and later introducing myself, I felt proud to be a part of her serenity. Nonetheless, there still may be more uncertainties ahead for her than other parents – or maybe not. 

Whatever the case, Tyler is one happy little boy, but through the continued shortsightedness of the County Executive, that could change.

Mr. Astorino, you should be able to figure this out because Tyler isn’t the only one counting on you.

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