WASHINGTON (CN) - The District of Columbia "systematically manipulated" the system to close day-care centers for hundreds of disadvantaged children for bogus reasons, then laid off 165 workers, 34 day-care operators claim in court.
Lead plaintiff Joanne Badgett sued the District of Columbia and the district's Office of Attorney General, in Superior Court.
She and her co-plaintiffs claim the defendants ordered them to stop enrolling kids, then used the depleted enrollment numbers to cut federal funding from the city's subsidized day care and child development program.
"Defendant systematically manipulated enrollment numbers, intentionally determined not to apply for federal dollars, illegally reallocated more than $4 million in appropriated funds and circumvented privatization laws," the complaint states.
Until 2009, the plaintiffs operated 22 early care and after school care centers for the city's Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR). The city's Office of Educational Services (OES) operated the federally funded program, which plaintiffs say was "the highest rated program of its kind in the nation, providing affordable subsidized daycare services to economically disadvantaged families and particularly for children who qualify for federal Headstart funds."
Hundreds of families and single moms trying to re-enter the work force used the program.
Congress set a budget of $6.2 million for the program in 2009, but "the District through DPR and other agencies executed a callous, deliberate and strategic plan to create a pretextual and illegal justification for the abolishment of plaintiff's jobs and the reallocation and reprogramming of government monies therefore," the complaint states.
They did it by telling child care centers to stop accepting families who qualified for the program, then cutting the program citing the decreases in enrollment, the plaintiffs say.
"Upon information and belief, defendant intentionally and maliciously suppressed, or caused to be suppressed, enrollment numbers for the OES program by excluding these economically disadvantaged families and children," the complaint states. "Defendant thus denied eligible families' participation in order to justify closure of child care centers and contracting out services originally provided by OES. In the process, defendant claimed low enrollment numbers justified closing child care centers and the elimination of 165 DPR positions within OES, including plaintiffs' jobs."
The city then reallocated the money for "other budget items," the plaintiffs say.
They claim that city officials failed to apply for funding for the following years, and privatized the city's day-care services, or in some cases transferred the jobs to the public school system.
"OES and select government officials in DPR illegally defunded DPR and abolished plaintiff's jobs," the complaint states. "A full accounting is in order."
The plaintiffs seek $10 million in compensatory damages for wrongful termination, back and front pay with benefits and interest, and declaratory judgment that the defendants violated due process.
They also want to be reinstated to their previous jobs and attorneys fees.
They are represented by Donald Temple.
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