By Sen. Sonia Chang-Díaz and Rep. Liz Malia/Special to the Gazette
Gov. Deval Patrick has repeatedly made early education his number one priority, and this laudable goal was reinforced in his recent State of the Commonwealth address. Unfortunately, his administration is currently ignoring an opportunity to preserve dozens of high-quality seats at the Shattuck Child Care Center (SCCC), an institution that has provided over 40 years of dedicated service to children of Shattuck Hospital employees and members of our community.
To make matters worse, the administration has shown a lack of willingness to work with the SCCC and local leaders to come up with solutions that would meet the needs of all parties. Despite lofty talk at the outset of an inclusive, participatory process, we have seen promise after promise broken by the Executive Office of Health and Human Services, the Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance, and the Office of the Governor. For nearly two years, attempts by the board of the SCCC and local elected officials to engage the administration have been given little more than lip service and have, in most cases, gone ignored.
What’s particularly frustrating is that the SCCC leadership has been so diligent, creative and reasonable in trying to find solutions that meet the administration’s cost limitations. All they are asking at this point is for the Patrick Administration to allow them some land on the 17-acre Shattuck campus on which to put a modular child care unit. And they need a one-year extension on their lease in the existing Shattuck building in order to execute the move. (The administration plans to eventually demolish the building.)
This case could serve as the perfect opportunity for the governor to highlight how targeted investments in high-quality early childhood education can make a real difference in people’s lives. Sadly, his administration seems to have decided that not only is this investment not worth it, but that the members of our community don’t even deserve a timely response. In late January, despite promises of a solid answer by mid-December, our offices were informed by the administration that they would “consider” allowing the SCCC to find a new location on state land—at financially unsustainable rent—if the local legislators did the administration’s heavy lifting for them and found capital funds somewhere. But even then, they would only “consider” it—which is what they supposedly had been doing already. A simple “no” would have sufficed.
It would be difficult to conclude that the administration ever had a real intention of productively working with the SCCC to find a feasible solution to this situation. Had the SCCC board and parents been made aware of this at the outset, they could have spent the last couple of years working to find a solution on their own, rather than being led to believe that a collaborative fix could exist. And the center’s families would have had adequate time to get their children on a waiting list for another facility, in case things didn’t work out. Unfortunately, with the administration not only failing to act, but to even communicate, dozens of families will now have to scramble to find a new setting for their children’s early education needs, while our local supply of early education seats drops by a few dozen.
During the lead-up to his recent State of the Commonwealth address, the governor indicated his intention to finish his term by “running through the tape.” Sadly, in this case, he appears to have tripped short of the finish line. With only a few months left to make a real difference in the lives of our Commonwealth’s children, we hope he can pick himself up and indeed finish strong by preserving this valuable program.
State Sen. Sonia Chang-Díaz represents the 2nd Suffolk District, including most of Jamaica Plain. State Rep. Liz Malia represents the 11th Suffolk District, which covers part of JP. Both are JP residents.