KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO
At the Robert L. Perry Jr. Day Care Center in Greenport, which has lost all its state funding, 3-year-old students (from left) Tania, Jackie, Rigo, Ariana, Odaliz, Kevin and Ricky enjoy a moment of relaxation on the playground. The center is seeking community sponsorships to keep tuition affordable for working parents.
Just weeks after learning that the Robert L. Perry Jr. Day Care Center in Greenport would lose funding due to the state budget crisis, director Joan Marie Cortez has launched a program soliciting sponsorships to allow individual children to continue participating.
Ms. Cortez took her appeal to St. Agnes R.C. Church in Greenport on a recent Sunday and is making a wider appeal to the community. For those who can, she’s asking for a commitment of $120 a month, even suggesting that several friends might be able to share the monthly payment so no one is overly burdened. And Ms. Cortez is hoping those who can’t make a monthly commitment will give what they can.
Ultimately, she hopes funding will be restored as the economy recovers. But in the interim, she faces the possibility of either closing the center or operating it only for families who can afford to pay the full cost.
That’s not why the day care program was founded in 1992, Ms. Cortez said. It’s about serving a community of hard-working families who deserve to know their children are well cared for and safe while they’re at work, she said.
The state had been subsidizing weekly tuition of $215 per child, so that parents had to pay $50 or less per week. The center’s annual budget is $250,000, Ms. Cortez said, with about $144,000 provided by state funding. The rest has come from contributions and tuition paid by families.
With the loss of state funding, she is looking at doubling the fees parents pay, but that still wouldn’t make up for the full $12,000 per month lost from state revenues, she said.
“That’s a lot to make up,” Ms. Cortez said.
The center currently provides year-round day care services for 26 children ranging in age from 2 months to 4 years. Ms. Cortez estimated that 85 percent of her students’ tuition was subsidized by the state funding. She has a waiting list of at least a dozen more families who would like day care for their children.
Students tend to come mostly from working-class families, many of whom have minimum wage jobs, so paying even $50 a week for child care is difficult, she said. Since the recession began, many parents have had their hours cut at work, making a big slash in their income, she said.
Ms. Cortez knows many people send money overseas to support needy children and she wants those people to know, “The children are right here; you don’t have to go far,” she said.
“It can make a big difference in a kid’s life,” Ms. Cortez said. Some children don’t speak English when they enter the program, but learn from teachers and playmates. Through puzzles, games, arts and crafts, music and other activities, they develop basic skills that will enable them to be better students, she said.
“By the time they leave here, they have had a good preparation for life,” she said.
Perry Day Care Center has a staff of seven, including Ms. Cortez, and much of the expense of running the facility involves paying salaries and providing health care benefits, Ms. Cortez said. The center has three employees who serve infants from 2 to 18 months old; two who work with toddlers, 18 months to 3 years old; and one who works with preschoolers who are 4 and will move on to Head Start.
Because of the funding cut, Ms. Cortez has already told staff members she might have to cut back their hours or even lay some workers off.
“They need their jobs,” she said. And she needs them to handle the number of children the program serves. What’s more, if she has to cut their hours, her hopes of expanding the center’s current 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. hours would have to be scrapped. A lot of parents need to drop off their children earlier or pick them up later because of their work schedules, Ms. Cortez said.
“The families become your family,” Ms. Cortez said, referring to the connection she and her staff feel to the parents as well as the children they serve.
To sponsor a child or donate to the Robert L. Perry Day Care Center, call Joan Marie Cortez at 477-2931 or send a check payable to Perry Day Care Center, 612 Third St., Greenport, NY 11944.