Panel Tries to Quell Fears Day-Care Centers Will Close

TIMES STAFF WRITER

An advisory committee formed to study school enrollment and overcrowding in Burbank has caused an uproar among parents concerned that the group is considering eliminating day-care centers--a worry that school district officials call "needless."

"Ultimately, any decision to modify child care or any other program will be made by the elected Board of Education, not by the advisory committee," said Arthur Pierce, superintendent of the Burbank Unified School District.

At a meeting Tuesday night, Pierce and other members of the school board fielded questions from a crowd of more than 60 angry parents, saying no decision is being made behind their backs. The committee then voted not to recommend that city day-care centers be eliminated.

But parents such as David Meyerhof, whose 6-year-old son attends a Burbank day-care center, were annoyed the issue arose.

"Even talking about closing day-care centers is a crime," said Meyerhof, who is circulating a petition that will be presented to the school board.

The controversy surrounding day-care centers in Burbank stems from the district's problems with overcrowding. Last year, the district for the first time considered implementing a year-round, multitrack school calendar and held a series of public discussions on the possibility of instituting such a program at Joaquin Miller Elementary School.

Ultimately, the board voted not to go to a year-round calendar for the 1993-94 academic year. But during the debate and in subsequent discussions, some began to question the practice of using classroom space for day-care programs.

"Some people said, 'Why couldn't we just move the day care off campus and we'd have an extra classroom,' " Pierce said.

Earlier this year, the Board of Education formed the 50-member Elementary Enrollment Options Committee to study issues related to enrollment in Burbank elementary schools and ways to handle overcrowding, Pierce said. One of its four subcommittees studied the use and location of day-care and children's centers.

"Somehow, out of forming that committee, the alarm bell rang and some people believed this was a move to do away with child care, and that categorically was not the reason for this committee," Pierce said.

Parents and members of the committee said part of the problem was a lack of communication between the board and parents.

"A lot of the parents felt these meetings were held secretly. That's the farthest thing from the truth, but they didn't know about them," said Stan Lynch, a member of the committee and a longtime advocate of day care in Burbank.

"I think the majority of us on the committee are very pro-child care," he said.

The Burbank Unified School District operates day-care and preschool programs at 10 elementary schools, which care for about 850 children, said Goldie Bemel, director of child development.

"For single parents, if you don't have a quality and affordable program, you're just not able to go to work," she said.

The committee is scheduled to finish its work by the end of the month and present its findings to the school board April 15. Parents and others will have "ample opportunities" to review and discuss the findings before any subsequent action is taken, Pierce said.

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