Get on the Bus

Officials at Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles (JCCGLA) have decided to reinstate an after-school care program at the Westside Jewish Community Center — to the dismay of parents at the Bay Cities Jewish Community Center, who have been pressing for the return of the program there.

The JCCGLA officials in late June had announced the programs would be dismantled, citywide, effective in September.

To placate the Bay Cities parents, the JCCGLA, a beneficiary agency of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, has offered to bus Santa Monica children back and forth to the program at the Westside JCC, on Fairfax and Olympic.

"It’s a wonderful option," Nina Lieberman Giladi, JCCGLA’s executive vice president, told The Journal. "The fact that the Bay Cities parents spoke up was an important statement. The agency worked very hard to respond to their needs. The busing was an alternative to allow them to receive the programs that they need in an environment we already know is successful."

Bay Cities parents, now faced with few after-school care alternatives when the school year resumes in late August, may elect to enroll their children in the WJCC program at a cost of $500 a month per child.

According to Bay Cities JCC parent Jared Breuer, the WJCC offer is nearly double his previous cost, "for a long bus ride." JCCGLA officials guaranteed parents that supervisors aboard the buses will keep Bay Cities kids engaged throughout their commute with songs and discussion.

Parents are still not happy with the idea of their children spending so much time each afternoon aboard a bus. Breuer, along with Nancy Nigrosh and Steve Rottman, headed an ad-hoc group of Bay Cities parents that formed in June after they learned of the after-school program’s scheduled cancellation.

After a July 3 meeting between concerned Bay Cities parents and JCC officials, JCCGLA agreed to give parents two weeks to propose alternative sites that could house a JCC after-school program.

As a coalition of 25 upset Santa Monica parents scrambled to find alternate facilities, they also e-mailed a petition letter to John Fishel, Federation president; Giladi; Alan Finkelstein, JCC of North America president; and Herb Abrams, JCC Task Force chairman, in an effort to reinstate the program.

The parents said they worked around busy work schedules and vacation plans and faced obstacles such as the rapidly approaching school year and their lack of experience in determining licensed facilities that meet state and municipal standards.

Parents provided JCCGLA with a short list of alternative sites, among them: Sha’arei Am, Mishkon Tephilo, Kehillat Ma’arav, Santa Monica Community Church and the Unitarian Universalist Community Church. Ellen Guttner, associate executive vice president of JCCGLA, looked into the sites. Unfortunately, she said, none of them panned out because of scheduling conflicts or complications pertaining to capacity limits and licenses.

"With a better time frame," Rottman said, "we could have provided a better list."

In the process of researching sites, parents discovered that the dormant building next-door to Bay Cities JCC, previously a nursery school, had been purchased by the Federation. Parents asked exiting Bay Cities JCC Director Tammy Gelb why the Federation had not considered the unoccupied building, which currently stands boarded-up and graffiti-ridden. According to parents, Gelb, recently promoted to JCCGLA’s citywide coordinator of day camping programs, replied that the building, purchased by the Federation earlier this year, did not meet health code standards and could not be renovated in time for the 2001 school year. Gelb confirmed that this indeed was her conclusion. Giladi offered no comment regarding the building.

"I would agree that the building is not in shape to serve as any long-term solution," said Fishel, who added that executive decisions on JCC matters are made within the JCC organization. At press time, JCCGLA was notifying parents by letter of its plan to keep its after-school care program at the Westside JCC and to bus Santa Monica students back and forth to the facility.

Parents contacted said the JCCGLA made an effort to respond to their pleas and look into the alternatives proposed. However, they called the effort too little and too late. They blame JCCGLA’s poor initial communication as the root problem of this situation.

Parent Michele Prichard observed in an e-mail to other parents after JCCGLA’s proposed WJCC solution, "Had their restructuring process included an opportunity for the parents and members to express their interest and willingness to help out, this could have all been avoided."

The fact that Santa Monica’s parents were so pleased with the convenience and cultural enrichment that Bay Cities’ after-school care used to offer has made this conflict all the more painful, parents said.

"With some advance notice, we might have found an alternate facility and been able to retain our wonderful staff," Prichard said. "But, given the way in which it was handled, we had a minuscule chance of salvaging the program."