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Kids Zone is staying
Council: Make it legal, no more profits
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Parents of many of the 255 children enrolled in Kids Zone not only were able to convince the Manteca City Council  to retain the after-school child care by making it legal under state law but they may also eventually see lower fees.

In doing so, that means the cost of other fee-based recreation programs offered by the Manteca Parks and Recreation Department may either go up or simply disappear. That’s because people might not be willing to pay for the actual cost of everything from scuba diving lessons to gymnastics when the $117,256 annual “profit” from Kids Zone used to subsidize them goes away.
Tuesday’s unanimous City Council decision also included instructions to staff to make sure that all costs are paid for by the city so taxpayers aren’t subsidizing Kids Zone through the schools. That means Manteca’s elected leaders want the fee-based program to pay for classroom rental at the nine sites as well as energy use and even school district supplies that are used by staff and participants such as toilet paper.

“It is a valuable program,” noted Councilman John Harris after 49 people spoke on both sides of the Kids Zone issue. “But we must follow the law. We must be licensed.”

Councilman Vince Hernandez went a step further.

He offered an apology to Ed Fonseca - a private day care provider who led the charge to make sure the city’s Kids Zone program complied with state day care licensing requirements. Fonseca first raised the question in 1999 to staff as early as several years ago. He was told that they were indeed legal when that is now clear that wasn’t the case based on city communication with the proper state authorities.

“A mistake was made,” Hernandez said of the Kids Zone program that was started in 1999. “We need to rectify it.”

Mayor Willie Weatherford spoke of his frustration at being given answers by staff that assured him Kids Zone was operating legally only to find out after the private sector hired an attorney and forced the issue that it wasn’t legal under state law.

“Our staff did not stay on top,” Weatherford said, adding the turnover of personnel in the department could have led to the confusion.

Councilman Steve DeBrum echoed the council’s sentiments when he said Kids Zone needed to be “self-sustaining” not used as a way to generate revenue for other recreation programs.

What’s next for Kids Zone program
Staff will immediately start the licensing process for the nine sites through the State of California Department of Social Services. It would require $6,000 for licensing for the participating school sites and $2,700 to re-fingerprint the Kids Zone staff.

They also will work with the state to determine what staff members need additional Early Childhood Education units. Five of the 30 part-time instructors and aides have the required 12 units. Assistant City Manager Karen McLaughlin said the state will give others up to a year to comply.

The state will allow the city to continue to operate Kids Zone while the 90-day licensing process takes place. They also have indicated they will not assess a $200-a-day fine as allowed under state law.

Private child care providers expect the state will require each city the city to have directors at the nine sites. That, they noted, will require paying people more.

Even so, based on the monthly fee of $115 per child in Kids Zone the city is generating $117,000 over what existing costs they are charging in participant fees. That means the city could face $117,000 in additional costs and not be forced to raise fees. Several council members alluded to the possibility the fees might actually drop once all expenses are taken into account.

Challenge for city to adjust rec program fees
The council decision also means staff will have to revisit all fees charged for recreation programs since they won’t be able to tap into more than $100,000 in excess revenue the Kids Zone has been generating each year.

The general fund subsidizes other fee-based recreation programs ranging from guitar classes to tiny tot baseball with $200,000 a year from the distressed general fund.

By cutting off the ability to use Kids Zone “profits” to go to other recreation programs, it means the city will either have to either earmark another $100,000 - or almost enough to hire a police officer for a year - from the general fund or only offer recreation programs that pay their own way.

A staff report noted without the Kids Zone “profit” about 40 percent of other recreation programs would need to be dropped.

Pros & cons offered by 49 speakers
The legal status of the Kids Zone was pushed by private license day care providers who have seen their ranks in the city thin by nearly 100 down to 151 during the past several years. They blame the economy plus Kids Zone being able to undercut them due to tax subsidies in the form of not paying the school district for rent and not having to follow the same state rules the private sector does for the drop-off in business.

They also question whether it was right for a government agency to compete against the private sector.
And while they clung to the argument it was a safety issue, proponents of Kids Zone didn’t see it that way. They believed child care providers were more concerned about their bottom line and not safety per se.

The supporters of Kids Zone noted it was affordable, convenient, allowed for a seamless transfer of kids from classroom to recreation program, had an excellent staff, and created an environment that encouraged children to get help with homework as well as enjoy a wide variety of fun activities. They also said they had no concerns about the safety of their child or the quality of the Kids Zone staff.

Some supporters noted that without Kids Zone they would be forced to leave their children at home alone after school due to work or else might have to seek government help or quit their jobs because they couldn’t afford private child care.

While focusing in on affordability, most felt the Kids Zone offered a viable option that they believed was better suited for their children.

It was also suggested that the drop off in numbers at private day care could have a lot to do with the fact a number of families have gone from both parents working to just one due to the economy.