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Posted: Wednesday, May 15, 2002 11:00 pm

Parents seeking to enroll their children in Community Extension Programs day care service may have to wait several weeks to find out if their child can be in the program next year and may also have to pay more money.

CEP, which provides before and after school day care programs at 12 Amphitheater schools, notified parents May 6 that it would be changing from an hourly rate to a flat monthly fee beginning in the fall.

This year, parents paid roughly $2.50 an hour for before and after school care. Next year, that rate will change to $80 per month for before school care and $200 for after school care, regardless of how often services are used.

Several parents who only use the service for a few hours a week could be looking at a substantial increase in fees if they decide to enroll their children in the program.

The change angered several parents who had already been told that their child might not be able to get into the program in the first place due to program restructuring.

Some parents were also upset because they were notified about the change only two days before registration began on May 8.

"We had only one day to see if another provider might be able to charge us cheaper rates," said Greg Steed, a parent with two children in the program at Copper Creek Elementary School.

Steed said his children only go to the after school program on Thursdays and Fridays for a couple of hours each day. Steed said he and his wife liked the affordable hourly rate CEP offered which is why they chose CEP instead of going to a private daycare.

Steed said he only paid about eight or nine dollars a week this year, but if his family decides to stick with CEP for the upcoming year, they would have to pay more than twice that amount.

Steed said he knew that the program was going to be restructured to allow fewer children, but said he had no idea an hourly rate was no longer going to be offered. He added that he thought CEP was being deliberately deceptive by waiting until the last minute to notify parents about the new rates.

"It seemed kind of strange," he said. "It seemed like they made their choices then so that parents would be limited to where they could look for other programs."

Diana Hilton, a parent with a child in the program at Donaldson Elementary School, also said she only uses the program for a couple of hours a week and had not heard about the rate changes for next year.

"This will certainly change how I use the program," she said.

Hilton said she often uses the program if she has to go to a meeting or if she is out of town.

"It's hard to see if I will even use them at all next year," she said.

Zelda Boyd, CEP's director, said CEP was not intentionally waiting until May 6 to notify parents about the new rates, it just took that much time to figure out what the new rates would be.

"I can't give a specific reason why it has taken this long other than to say it takes time to collect information," she said. "We had to look at our sign in sheets to see how much time kids were spending there, we had to consult with the district, it just takes time."

Boyd also said CEP had been sending notices since the beginning of the school year about possible rate changes and had sent several flyers telling parents to contact their schools on May 6 for the new rate information.

"Every parent received some information indicating that they should track their hours and become familiar with how often they were going to use the program because in the fall the rate structure was going to change," Boyd said. "Whether the parents read that information I'm not sure. I can't be responsible for making sure that they do read the information that we put out."

Boyd said she has known since the beginning of the school year that drop-in care was causing a financial burden on the program, which is why she and other CEP employees started looking into changing the rates.

"We often had situations where the children who were registered did not come on a regular basis and we had to pay staff accordingly," she said. "We've known for some time that it was affecting us, obviously."

Boyd said at Copper Creek, for instance, there were about 90 children on average attending the program every day. But on some days, only a fraction of that amount would show up, but the program was still staffed for 90 children.

"We had to cut our costs by 40 percent," Boyd said. "We were actually bordering on not being able to offer any care at all because of the burden of drop-in care."

Scott Nelson, a CEP boardmember, said the added burden of having to pay the Amphi district rent this year also called for a program change.

This is the first year that CEP, formerly known as Amphitheater Extension Programs, will be paying rent to the district. Last year, the auditor general sent a letter to the district saying it had been violating state law that requires private companies using district space to pay the cost of rent and utilities.

Originally, CEP promised that it wasn't going to change its rates, but Nelson said that promise was only good for this year.

"We honored that promise," he said. "The rates haven't been changed in a long time. It reflected the fact that the program needed to be upgraded."

Nelson said the board has been concerned about the low rates for some time, due to the expense it has caused to the administration by having to staff for an unknown number of children.

"It has put a tremendous strain on the system," he said.

Several parents who are scrambling to find daycare for their children in light of the waiting lists and new rates have been calling the Oro Valley Parks and Recreation department, asking that its summer daycare program be extended into the school year.

Ainsley Reeder, the division's director, said employees have been fielding several phone calls from frustrated parents looking for alternatives to CEP.

Reeder said her staff has been instructed by the Oro Valley Town Council to look into adding a before and after school daycare component to its programs, but added that she didn't know if the department would be able to afford it.

Current prices for the summer program are $50 a week for Monday through Thursday, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. and $15 for Fridays, which includes the cost of a field trip. If a child needs to stay longer, it costs up to $25 extra per week, Reeder said.

In the meantime, Steed said he has not decided what he will do for day care.

"We sympathize with the parents," Boyd said. "Our hope was that, yes, we were going to be able to do things based on an hourly basis. But we just weren't able to do that financially."

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