Gavilan’s infant program in the red

Gavilan College Child Development Center Director Susan Alonzo

Board considers slashing it next year; would leave many parents
Gilroy – Lisa Castaneda relies on the infant/toddler program at Gavilan to care for her 6–month–old son while she attends class at the college. Castaneda’s three other children attend Gavilan’s preschool program while she works towards obtaining her degree in criminal justice.

But at Tuesday night’s board meeting, the infant program may be slashed for next year, leaving Castaneda scrambling to find a daycare provider for her children.

“Prior to this, I had them in different centers, and with independent individuals, and I never felt safe,” Castaneda said. “I feel relaxed with them being here (on campus.) … If my son does not stay here – I know this is going to affect my education.”

The infant/toddler program at Gavilan opened in 2000 and operated with state funds.

Last year, it cost $197,858 to run while revenue from the program was $168,968. The difference left the Child Development Center’s numbers in the red about $29,000, said Jan Bernstein–Chargin, Gavilan’s director of public information.

“The whole CDC has been running in a deficit,” Bernstein–Chargin explained. “The infant/toddler program is the most expensive part.”

Gavilan has been picking up the tab by dipping into its general fund.

“In the ongoing review of the budget, (President Steve Kinsella) realized that the infant/toddler program was not paying for itself,” Bernstein–Chargin said. “We know it’s something our community wants and needs, and our students want and need – but we don’t have any way of paying for it.”

The pre–school program is not in danger of closing, however starting in September, the infant program may be terminated.

According to Rhonda Pfenning, an officer in Gavilan’s business services department, the cost of the program for the 2000–01 school year was $86,000. That figure has increased over the years to $169,000 in 2003–04, and about $200,000 this year.The costs of employee salaries have risen at a significantly higher rate than the state funds can compensate for, Kinsella explained. State regulations require a ratio of one caregiver to every three infants. Their salaries accounts for much of the cost increase.

“The annual revenue (of the CDC) is only covering 69 percent of its expenses,” President Kinsella said. By phasing out the infant/toddler program, it will save the college about $22,000, he explained.

“This is really not something we wanted to do at all,” Kinsella said. “It’s about a balancing of priorities.” Because the general fund has been paying for the overhead of the CDC, it has impacted additional student services such as extending the library hours, he said.

Last year, Kinsella hired a consultant to explore methods of saving money from the child development program, however, no significant findings could reduce the debt.

“We should not bring in a new group of students, only to tell them that we cannot sustain the program,” Kinsella said, citing his reasons for phasing out the program.

Unless significant financial changes occur, Kinsella does not believe the infant/toddler program can be sustained.

“I do recognize that without it some students are going to be affected,” he said. “We’ll do what we can to help them locate other infant centers, but I don’t believe that we’ll be able to continue to offer it.”

Having infants located on campus eases pressure off students and faculty mothers at Gavilan. They can breastfeed throughout the day, and have additional services for toddlers and preschool students nearby.

“That’s one of the reasons I can come to school,” Castaneda explained. “I was full–time, but with all this going on I (probably have) to drop out. It’s too much for me. I can’t go from daycare to daycare to daycare.”

The infant/toddler center is also used by the child development and nursing student interns.

“The nursing students are learning about what normal behavior is for children of that age,” said Child Development Director Susan Alonzo. “They also do internships at hospitals. It gives them a different (perspective) … there they see sick children. Here, they see the healthy kids.”

Nursing students utilize the program by practicing taking the temperature, height and weight of the children.

The child development students learn how to interact with infants and toddlers, Alonzo explained.

“They learn what the appropriate way is to speak to a child,” she said.

Without the infant/toddler program, “The CD students would have to find another location or facility,” Alonzo said.

Kinsella does not believe either the nursing or child development program will be impacted significantly without the infant/toddler room because the pre–school program is available for student–child interaction.

Currently, one teacher works in the program with four infants. During the 2004–05 school year, 18 children enrolled in the program – 13 were those of Gavilan students. There were also four additional teachers in the classroom: three full–time assistant teachers, and one full–time assistant teacher.

The cost of enrolling one infant per month in the infant/toddler program is $1,040. Toddlers cost $988 to enroll, and preschoolers, $887 per month. Some Gavilan students qualify for assistance under certain state programs, reducing the financial burden.

Two years ago, Gavilan opened the infant/toddler program up to community members.

The five current staff members from the infant–toddler program will be moved to the pre–school. No staff will be cut.

“The hope is that we can expand the pre–school program,” Bernstein–Chargin explained. “Hopefully we can use the center to service more people.”

The college has not reapplied for state assistance for next fall.

Parents were notified last week by letter that the infant/toddler program was closing.

“People are understandably upset,” Bernstein–Chargin said. “It’s very difficult to find good infant child care.”

Castaneda doesn’t have a large support system at home in Salinas to help provide care for her children while she attends school.

Her only help is her sister who also takes classes at Gavilan.

Castaneda has been a full–time student for the past two years and has been active on the Budget Committee, College of Choice Committee Associated Student Body, and in the Extended Opportunity Program and Services student support program helping to raise funds and provide assistance to other Gavilan students.

She wants to help troubled youth in group homes or juvenile hall after she graduates.

Before coming to Gavilan, Castaneda was working a series of low–paying jobs and not getting anywhere. She was inspired to go back to school to help herself and her children.

“I’m trying to educate myself so I can support my kids,” she explained. “They are my worries right now.”

For Castaneda to receive financial aid for her schooling she must be enrolled in classes. But if the infant/toddler program is cut, she will be forced to pull out of the college until her children are established at another center.

“What I want is to be able to finish school here at Gavilan and have my baby here,” she said.