Yoon and Tobin to hold emergency pre-school hearing

As parents all over the city fret over the future of 10 preschool and after-school programs that are set to lose city funding for their staff, City Councillors Sam Yoon and John Tobin are holding a last-minute hearing to determine once and for all if they really will be able to survive, as the Menino administration contends.

At Community Centers all over the city, including the Murphy, the Marshall and the Perkins in Dorchester, the proposed loss of funding has been met with different responses from parents. At the Murphy and the Ohrenberger in West Roxbury, hundreds of parents showed up to ask questions of Boston Centers for Youth and Families head Daphne Griffin. In particular, they asked whether the preschool teachers currently employed will be able to stay—and though assurances were given in the affirmative—just how that will happen still seems to be an unanswered question.

"What about their benefits? No one is able to get a straight answer on that," said Councillor Tobin. "In the new situation are they going to get healthcare?"

Technically, their tenure would also give the teachers "bumping rights" over other employees in the city, which could possibly lead them to seek the security and benefits of a city job over one with one of the site councils that are charged with taking over the programs. At the Marshall, the site council's president Bill Milligan assumed this would be the case with after-school teachers there.

Just as the Murphy's preschool teachers Lisa Zinck and Sheila Reardon have been around for years, forming deep roots with the Pope's Hill community, so have the Ohrenberger's teachers, Pat Whall and Grace Guinane, become a part of West Roxbury. They have clocked as many as 60 years of teaching at the center between them, according to Tobin.

"Grace and Pat have literally touched the lives of thousands of families over the years," said Tobin. "They have been confirmation sponsors and attended the weddings of kids they taught in preschool."

The hearing was set for Wednesday, April 22, at 4 p.m. in City Hall, just after the Reporter's press time. The goal was to figure out whether the city is planning to meet a deadline this Friday, April 24, for applying for the grants that have traditionally supported the programs, or if all of the site councils will be able to do so in time.

"I don't want to call a hearing two months from now and have them say ‘That ship has sailed,'" said Tobin. "I would be willing to support the shift if we had better answers."

Yoon, before the hearing, said he would like to see BCYF reapply for the grants, giving the councils more time to prepare for the switch. That would essentially put it off one year.

"In an economic downturn there's going to be more of a need this year for safe affordable options for families," Yoon said. "The decision was made at the mayoral level behind closed doors… the decision was let them sink or swim, but it's the kids who suffer the most in the end."