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Gold Hill seeks child-care alternatives

GOLD HILL — With the city set to discontinue funding of the community's only after-school child-care program by year's end, parents are hoping other sponsors will keep the doors open for their children.

The city of Gold Hill currently sponsors an after-school "club" at Patrick Elementary School. But costs and concerns about liability have caused the city to announce it will no longer continue the program.

At a rate of $7 per day, with a $75 monthly cap, parent Robin Nick said, the program is "extremely cost-effective" and "the only game in town" for cash-strapped parents.

"Without this, I would have to quit my job," Nick told Patrick Elementary principal Nanette Pergin this week.

School officials have told parents they are considering options, including after-school care provided by the Boys and Girls Club or the 4-H program.

When a Boys and Girls Club program was discontinued in 2003 because of funding concerns, city officials agreed to sponsor the program by providing worker's compensation insurance for the site's two directors, said city recorder Mary Goddard.

This year, city officials learned that, beyond providing the $400 in insurance per year, the city was, in fact, liable for the entire operation.

"It's not about the money," Goddard said. "The issue is the School District does not want to be liable for any portion of the program, meaning we as a city would have to take on background checks and all risk and liability."

Goddard added, "We were told by our insurance company, 'No way. It's too much risk.' "

Central Point School District Superintendant Randy Gravon said the district faced a different dilemma. With a regular stream of budget cuts, taking on district employees is expensive, and with teacher positions being cut, adding child-care positions is not even an option.

"We don't have enough money to operate a full-week education program, let alone provide day-care," Gravon said of the district.

In Central Point, students at three grade schools have after-school programs offered by the city of Central Point Parks and Recreation Department.

Sams Valley students, also part of District 6, are served by the county's 4-H Extension Service, which also may offer a solution for Patrick Elementary students.

In addition, Gravon said, Boys and Girls Club officials had expressed a willingness to provide care for Patrick Elementary students.

Trying to reassure parents this week, Pergin said 4-H officials would be the likely avenue through which the program could continue.

Anne Manlove, 4-H extension agent for Jackson County, said Extension Service officials were in talks with school officials and that an agreement was "very likely."

"I'm sure we can make it work. It's just a matter of the program needs to pay for itself and the directors of the program will be our employees," she said, adding that the program "won't make a dime" but would charge enough to fund salaries, supplies and insurance.

Manlove said the cost to parents could change slightly, depending on enrollment numbers, to ensure the program is self-funded. She said she hoped a program could be in place by the time winter break begins.

Jessica Davis, one of two day-care directors for the Patrick Elementary site, said the School District should have provided better communication for parents.

Davis said she and site co-director Kierra Satterly sent a letter to parents and circulated a petition urging the program be maintained.

"We're pretty much the only option in town for these families, so we were concerned about the kids and we didn't want parents to find things out last-minute," Davis said.

Central Point resident Lucia Savage said she didn't "care who sponsors it" as long as her third-grader had a place to go after school.

"Gold Hill has a lot of low-income families," Savage said. "What it comes down to is we need this for our kids."

Kyle Owens, 11, frames his face with his Patrick Elementary School after-school program project. The classroom of students made sun catchers while waiting for their parents to pick them up at the end of the day. - Bob Pennell