Harlem Parents Fear Popular Day Care Center Could Close

By Jeff Mays on June 20, 2012 7:48pm 

Salem Day Care Center is scheduled to close in September. Sengere Mamadoe, who came to drop off a bag for his son Hamed, 3, said the care his son receives is important for his family.
Salem Day Care Center is scheduled to close in September. Sengere Mamadoe, who came to drop off a bag for his son Hamed, 3, said the care his son receives is important for his family.
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DNAinfo/Jeff Mays

HARLEM — Tamika Neal, a mom who works part-time and studies business management at a community college, said she can only juggle those duties because her three children are enrolled at Salem Day Care Center.

"This center allows me to go to school. It allows me to go to work," said Neal, who works at Hunter College and is enrolled at the Borough of Manhattan Community College. "What it really does is allow me to better myself." 

But that delicate balance for Neal is in danger because of the Bloomberg administration's proposed cuts to childcare programs. Neal now fears she will have to quit her job and leave school because Salem, located at West 129th Street, is slated to close.

And the options offered to her by the city cost double what she's paying now.

Public Advocate Bill de Blasio said 5,500 day care slots at centers such as Salem will be lost as the city transitions to a new EarlyLearn program. De Blasio and Brooklyn City Councilwoman Letitia James are investigating the possibility of a lawsuit to stop the cuts.

“This disinvestment in early education has to stop,” de Blasio said. “We are talking about programs that mean the difference between a child ready to learn on the first day of school and a child that needs years just to catch up.”

A City Hall spokeswoman said the changes were far from finalized and that the mayor was still negotiating the budget with the City Council.

The deadline for the fiscal budget is July 1.

If the proposed cuts pass, however, Salem would close on Sept. 28, said Marlene Pompeé, its executive director. Along with the 95 children being cared for by in-home providers and the 34 kids at full day care who will be affected, 13 staff members would lose their jobs.

"A lot of the parents ask me, 'What are they going to do?'" Pompeé said. "Most of these families depend on us."

Parents like Neal said they need help for a few more years until their kids reach school age.

Sengere Mamadoe, who came to drop off a bag for his son Hamed, 3, is unclear what he'll do after September.

"This day care is very important to me and my family," he said.

Pompeé said she's also upset at the grading system used to help justify the center's closing. She said the city criticized them on their enrollment numbers and diversity.

Pompeé said most of the parents who use Salem, located in Central Harlem, are black and Latino. It is increasingly seeing the children of African immigrants, too, which mirror residential patterns in the neighborhood.

And the center had 55 kids in day care until last year, when city budget cuts forced them to close a classroom.

"Many of our immigrant parents don't know what they are going to do," Pompeé said. "We provide parents with the opportunity to go to work or go to school, and many parents are saying they may have to quit."

Alpha Coleman, a teacher, said the staff has mentored young parents while providing for the social and emotional needs of area children.

"Some of our kids really need this early learning to help develop their social and emotional needs," said Coleman, who has worked at the 43-year-old center for 23 years. "I'm at the age where I can retire, but who is going to help all of these parents?"

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