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Supervisors Debate Childcare For Public Employees

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Sonora, CA — A debate over whether to use Federal CARES act money to provide in house distance learning and childcare options for local government employees played out at today’s Tuolumne County Supervisors meeting.

Jason Terry with the CAO’s office stated that many parents of children who provide essential government services would need to stay at home due to schools going all distance learning, and a survey identified around 100 employees with challenges in identifying childcare options. He noted that Superintendent of Schools Cathy Parker has been helping to spearhead an effort that could put children of workers in pods, with a max of 10 people, and they would receive assistance with things like distance learning while parents are at work.

It would be a temporary program through December, utilizing government buildings, and funded by the federal COVID-19 response dollars.

Supervisor Anaiah Kirk was adamantly against the idea. He said, “We all say that we are all in this together, with COVID, but if we move forward with this, we are separating the constituents we are supposed to represent, with government officials and employees. We say we’re essential, BS. Maybe we need to shut down and feel what our constituents are feeling.”

Kirk also stated he is upset that schools have not been able to reopen for in-person learning.

Supervisor Ryan Campbell took issue with Kirk’s comments, and stated, “I think the argument that we’re hearing is that we should make our deputies, and our firefighters, and other essential workers in the county suffer, because everyone else is suffering. I don’t agree with that argument one bit.”

Citing the potential impact to services, with no childcare options, CAO Tracie Riggs stated, “We could see some services absolutely halt in our organization…we have everything from payroll, to deputies, dispatchers, social workers and public health. Our goal is to try to keep them at work.”

Supervisor John Gray was supportive of Campbell’s comments, and Supervisor Karl Rodefer also supported the plan, but stated he was disappointed the CARE’s money couldn’t be used to help other families, not with the government, as well.

Supervisor Sherri Brennan raised some concerns about why something like this would be allowed to proceed when other schools have been trying to put forth plans, with smaller cohorts, but were told they could not open for in-person learning. She expressed a desire to explore whether schools could do something similar.

In the end, there was consensus to move the issue further. County Counsel will also be looking into whether non-government essential jobs could also qualify for the program, such as healthcare workers. Other government entities, such as TUD, and the City of Sonora, have also expressed an interest in taking part in the county’s childcare program. During public comments, City Administrator Mary Rose Rutikanga stated the city employees are having challenges, particularly with the fire and police departments, and seeking childcare options.

More details will be worked out over the coming weeks.