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Child Care-less

Former Cherokee customer tries to break free of the system.

By Mary Cashiola

In 1998, while Cherokee Children and Family Services executive director WillieAnn Madison was jaunting off to Europe, Ms. A. Chapman was living on $184 a month from Tennessee's Families First program. She had gone through a divorce, and as she puts it, sometimes, people just aren't hiring. Through Families First, she developed a Personal Responsibility Plan, went to continuing-education classes, and got free child care for her three children through Cherokee.

Since April 2001, Chapman -- who asked that her first name not be used -- has been working as a secretary for the fire department. Her job pays about $8 an hour, and from that, she pays about $110 a month for "transitional" child care, meaning her child care is subsidized by the state. But when she went back in August to renew, she was told she would have to pay for care starting in November.

"I'm trying to get off the system. I'm trying to be a responsible parent. But once I started working, they never sat down and told me that my child care would be cut off. The first I heard about it was when I went to be recertified," said Chapman.

Through the state department of human services, people on Families First can get 18 months transitional child care. Department spokesperson Dana Keeton said that the agency is very careful to tell people up front that transitional child care only lasts 18 months. "We can't be there for the rest of their lives," said Keeton. "They need to be making plans for what they'll do after that time period."

"The transitional programs are there to give people a chance to get their feet on the ground," said Keeton. "It's been very successful. When a state doesn't have a transitional program, people get a job and, all of a sudden, have a lot of responsibilities to meet. Transitional programs get them ready for complete independence."

But for some, it might not be enough time. Without the state aid, single mother Chapman said she will have to pay $88 a week for her 2-year-old, $38 a week for her 10-year-old, and $88 a month for her 12-year-old -- $592 a month.

"With utilities, rent, and transportation, I don't have the money to pay child care," said Chapman. "When I told him this, the interviewer [at the local office] said, 'Can't you quit your job and go back on AFDC? If you quit, we can get your child care back.'"

It's not exactly true -- recipients have to be off aid for three months before getting back on the rolls -- nor is Chapman willing to seriously consider it. And Keeton said that it is not what the department advises or would hope any of its employees would advise.

"That's like going backward," Chapman said. "I know women who are constantly getting back on the system. If you quit, you can't get any more help. So they just won't show up for their job, and then, they'll get fired. If you get fired, you can go back on the system. But I'm tired of going back on the system."

Chapman said she's not sure what she is going to do.


Social Studies

MCS board addresses downtown school's options.

By Mary Cashiola

Memphis City Schools superintendent Johnnie Watson wants to make the new downtown elementary school an optional school with a focus on social studies. The school won't open until August 2003, but the social-studies lesson begins now.

"I'm tired of hearing that optional schools are better. I am tired of those schools getting all the credit. Optional schools started as a way to stop white flight. Now, it's institutional racism," said Commissioner Hubon "Dutch" Sandridge at Monday night's meeting. Sandridge's comments began a long debate.

With a number of downtown residents -- many of them white -- addressing the board in support of an optional program downtown, many of the board's black commissioners spoke out about inequalities in the city and the system.

"We recently opened 15 new schools, but this is the first time the superintendent has brought a program to us for an optional school," said Commissioner Sara Lewis. "This sends the sinister message that some schools ain't equal."

In the past, the district's optional schools have been targets of blame for other failing schools. The argument is that without optional schools, higher-performing students would be dispersed throughout the district instead of concentrated at certain schools.

Board president Michael Hooks Jr. said he was for optional schools but not for an exclusive school for downtown residents. "I hate to keep using racism as even an issue, but let's face it: The more money you earn, the more likely your children are to be higher achievers," he said. "And in Memphis, the more money you earn, the less likely you are to be black."

There were also questions concerning whether all parents working downtown would have the opportunity to enroll their children and how many students are currently eligible to attend the school, which has a capacity of 745. But despite that, most of the board commissioners professed to be in favor of an optional-school program, if not an exclusive optional school, because they've seen it work.

Board members voted to wait on an optional-schools study before making a final decision on the downtown school.


Gibbons Requests Investigation

Jones' and County Clerk's Office's credit-card abuse may be looked into by TBI.

By Mary Cashiola

The pressure continues to mount on some Shelby County officials regarding possible misuse of county funds.

On Tuesday, Shelby County District Attorney Bill Gibbons released a statement through his office announcing his request for the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) to investigate activities by certain employees of the Juvenile Court Clerk's Office under Shep Wilbun and former county mayor assistant Tom Jones, all of whom have been linked to county credit-card abuses. "The purpose of the investigation is to determine whether any state criminal law violations have occurred," read the statement. It did not go into detail about what activities -- whether credit-card-related or not -- the TBI is investigating.

Jennifer Zunk, special assistant to the district attorney, said the office had no additional statement it could make as of press time. Gibbons is out of town until next week.

There is no estimated completion date for the investigations at this time.


Signs of the Times

City council approves Walnut Grove stop signs, despite recommendations to the contrary.

By Mary Cashiola

In a world of speed Bumps, road-width restricters, and roundabouts, the city council decided to go with old-fashioned stop signs for a cut-through to Walnut Grove.

In an effort to retrain motorists and appease the surrounding neighborhood, the city council voted last week to put in a four-way stop sign at the intersection of Walnut Bend and Walnut Creek. But in doing so, they went against the advice of the city engineer and traffic guidelines adopted by the state of Tennessee.

"I've been getting calls about that intersection for the last five years or so," Councilman Brent Taylor said earlier this week. "I had been trying to get relief for the neighbors by working through the administration, but it had been to no avail. The problem continued to fester. I realized I needed to involve the council."

When the intersection was part of the county, there was a four-way stop sign there. But after annexation, the city took out two of the signs. According to guidelines set out in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (the national traffic-control bible) and traffic volume on the streets, the intersection did not warrant a four-way stop.

"Our major concern is if we put in a four-way stop that is unwarranted, it will simply breed contempt for the device," city engineer Wain Gaskins told the council. Gaskins, who had to be called into the meeting specifically to discuss the intersection, explained that under the manual's guidelines, the street's volume simply did not warrant a four-way stop. Instead, the city engineer recommended a two-phase $150,000 project that would first reduce the width of the road from 40 to 20 feet to the tune of $40,000. The second $110,000 phase would be to construct a traffic circle there.

"We decided in committee we wanted stop signs," said Councilman Barbara Swearengen Holt. "Stop signs should suffice. I can't in clear conscience approve $40,000."

In the end, it seemed to come down to simple economics.

"It's unusual that the council will do what it did and take a different action than that recommended by the city engineer," said Taylor. "That's why there was so much discussion about it. It's not a function of the council to decide where to put traffic lights or stop signs. We didn't want to set a precedent, but everybody recognized it was an area that needed relief. And relief could be gotten for less than $150,000."


Lingerie to Go

Betty's takes to the road.

By Bianca Phillips

Betty's Red Carpet Fashions ON Cooper has closed its doors, but the controversial local retailer is still in business. Only this time, it's on wheels. Owner Betty Lamarr has decided to get out of the resale business and hit the road with Amsterdam Mobile Fashions, a lingerie/intimate-apparel delivery service.

Customers can call and set up an appointment at a temporary showroom located inside Master Needles II at 655 Riverside Drive or request faxed print sheets from her catalogs. She'll then deliver several pieces for her customers to try on in the privacy of their own homes.

"We'll be doing an out-call fashion boutique. Back in the older days, they called it trunk shows, and really wealthy women were the only ones who were able to afford it. But I want to offer this personalized service to all women -- and men too," said Lamarr. n

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