Parents’ group protests allocation of county funds
The parents were asking the Marquette County Board of Commissioners for increased funding for local child care.
Members of the coalition say that while the county has promised to invest $100,000 to help solve the problem, many parents think the county could give more. They point specifically to the $13 million the county received from the federal American Rescue Plan Act.
The coalition is requesting $1,527,635 for four projects across Marquette County. They contend that this money would be better spent on child care instead of on proposed courthouse renovations and air conditioning. The proposed courthouse projects would cost an estimated $1,540,000.
“I feel that our county is betraying us,” said military spouse and mother Abrielle Londo. “They’re stealing from mothers and fathers who are so desperate for child care and using it for their own personal gain for their own personal courthouse and that’s not fair. That’s not fair to the working mothers and fathers who are struggling time after time trying to find people for child care. The thing is our minimum wage is in the $9 area. What about our child care and our daycare centers that are charging us $450 a week or babysitters who are charging $15 an hour? They’re putting us more in debt than they are helping us. And that’s what our community and our courthouse needs to be doing, they need to be helping us. I feel very strongly that the money should not be used for the courthouse renovations. It needs to be used for a community-based program for children.”
Speeches from some of the concerned parents kicked off the 5 p.m. protest. Coalition members then marched along several streets surrounding the courthouse.
The coalition then attended the Marquette County Board of Commissioners meeting to plead its case. At times the meeting became heated.
During the first public comment, which is limited to 20 minutes, multiple people asked commissioners to help with the problem by increasing funding.
Commission Chair Gerald Corkin responded by saying there was not much the commission could do in terms of child care in the county.
“Twenty minutes is up and I’d like to inform that (during the) next meeting the board will make a final decision on what money is going to be allocated for child care,” Corkin said. “We will also explain to you what all the responsibilities of Marquette County has as far as child care. Really it’s zero. We have some federal dollars that we’re willing to give to help to get partners to deal with this situation, but it’s not Marquette County’s main duty to provide child care for all of Marquette County,” Corkin raised his voice. “So understand that 75 percent of what we do is mandated by the state, OK? Twenty-five percent is mandated by local sources like the airport, road patrol, these kinds of sources. So people that stand up and tell us that it’s our responsibility, you don’t know what you’re talking about. It’s not our responsibility.
“We will (be) cooperative with the federal dollars to try to help solve the problem. Be prepared next time for an answer from the board and also what our main job is. It’s not to support child care for all of Marquette County. We are talking millions of millions of dollars to do it.”
Most members of the coalition trickled out during the meeting with a few staying to speak at the second portion of public comment.
The second public comment section is limited to 5 minutes per person, but there is no set limit on the number of people who can speak or how long it can last.
Throughout the second public comment period Corkin consistently broke protocol by having a back-and-forth conversation with people who were making comments. He then ended the meeting abruptly, refusing to allow further comment despite requests to do so.
Coalition members said they have been asking the county to help them find a solution for months.
“A lot of concerned citizens have been going to the county board of commissioners meetings since March, giving public input, asking for an increased allotment of ARPA funding,” said parent liaison and mother Shilpa Jhobalia. “The American Rescue Plan Act funding is a once-in-a-lifetime COVID relief funding that has a lot of flexibility in how it can be used. This is an opportunity for our elected officials to do something that the people really want and need. We’ve been taking the time to organize, to spread awareness, a lot of us go to meetings with early childhood educators and have been part of focus groups. We’ve taken surveys, we’ve all put a lot of time and energy into coming up with a lot of different solutions, teacher scholarships centers. We can ask Northern (Michigan University) to bring back their early childhood program that they took away that’s a very unique aspect to this that NMU could definitely bring back some more educational programs that we can train people right here in Marquette.
“Also, expanding in-home daycares — there’s a lot we can do. We need the funding and this is an opportunity that the people really want and need especially if we want our economy to thrive and if we want families to stay in the Upper Peninsula. We have to provide things like housing and child care.”
ARPA funds are expected to be allocated at the Marquette County Board of Commissioners meeting at 6 p.m. on Oct. 4.
For more information about the Great Start Parent Coalition, email email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Brennan White can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248. His email address is email@example.com.