Local Commentary

Guest Commentary: F.C.’s Valuable Child Development Center

We have a vested interest in the success of the Falls Church City Public Schools (FCCPS). It won’t be long before we have two children in the school system. But we have to get there first.
As any family with two working parents or who needs childcare knows, high quality childcare in Northern Virginia is hard to come by with waiting periods of up to one year for infant care and even longer for preschool.

Much of the available childcare is in-home or of a particular religious affiliation. We put our son on three waiting lists in June for placement for the following April. Luckily, our son got a spot at the Easter Seals Child Development Center (CDC) and hope that our second child will have a spot there in March of 2012.

The CDC has been in the City for over 50 years. Since that time CDC has been offering inclusive child care and has addressed the general shortage in childcare for children with disabilities. Today, 20 percent of the families at the CDC have children with special needs who share integrated classrooms with other children of all ability levels.

The CDC is also providing a service to the families of the City and its employees. Currently, of the almost ninety families at the CDC, approximately thirty percent either reside in the City or work for the City (plus the five CDC employees who live in the City). The CDC is ideally located on Cherry Street, set back from the street and away from traffic. It has two woodsy playgrounds, one of which is fenced in for younger children. There is sufficient parking such that the CDC does not create an extra traffic burden for the neighborhood. We feel our son is safe, well cared for and loved. All in all, the CDC is an ideal place for those of us who do not have the opportunity to be with our children full time.

If the Child Development Center loses its lease in November, there will be 90 families scrambling for childcare alternatives that will likely not exist in that timeframe.

The CDC’s facility, which was built on City property without City funds, is scheduled to have its lease with the City expire in November of this year. The CDC currently rents its space from the City at $1 per year and the CDC is solely responsible for the building’s upkeep, maintenance and improvements. No decision has been made by the City whether the lease will be renewed. It is our understanding (from attending the May 23 City Council meeting) that the City’s school system has expressed an interest in using the CDC’s facility for their needs and terminating the CDC lease. They propose limited use for the CDC space beginning in July 2012.

At the May 23 City Council meeting, at which we spoke on behalf of the CDC, it seemed as though the only thing that was clear was that there was no clear plan at all for use of the CDC space. There was some discussion that perhaps as few as four classrooms were needed, and perhaps some space was needed for adult literacy programs. Also, there was no clear consensus as to whether the School Board’s plan for the expansion at Thomas Jefferson Elementary was dependent upon Mount Daniel Elementary being able to use the CDC space. The Council seemed very divided on this matter.

As parents, we do our best to avoid uncertainty and to be prepared. It is critical that any decision made must factor in the needs of the families that have children at CDC. To do less would violate the core principles upon which our “Little City” was founded.

We understand that Easter Seals has requested that it be able to remain in its current location until summer of 2013. If CDC loses its lease in November, there will be ninety families scrambling for childcare alternatives that will likely not exist in that timeframe.

But perhaps there is an even more workable alternative. The CDC has offered to pay rent for the facility (a revenue opportunity not offered by the other proposals for the space). The CDC has further offered to work with the schools to find a way to share the space.

The CDC is a treasure, helping those children with special needs and preparing children to succeed in public education.

Our hope is that the FCCPS, City Council and Easter Seals can come to an agreement on the future of the CDC that allows it to remain in its present capacity in the City of Falls Church. We understand the school’s needs and the difficult financial times for local government. That said we also believe that leaders of good will, both on the School Board and City Council, understand the value of the CDC and will do everything in their power to preserve this special place for our children and other children in the future.

 


Stuart Rubin contributed to this commentary.

 

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