WINCHESTER — Umpqua Community College’s Board of Education unanimously approved a plan to transition the operation of the Ford Childhood Enrichment Center to a community partner, with the stipulation that the board would get to approve or decline the agreement with the outside source.
UCC will continue to operate the child care center through June 30 with hopes to reopen the center in September under new leadership.
UCC wants to find a community partner through a request for proposal process in which a mutually beneficial agreement would provide preferential enrollment for children of UCC students, allow use of the center for practicum students and maintain the Ford name.
“UCC’s child care center has a reputation for providing excellent child care,” UCC President Debra Thatcher wrote in her recommendation to the board. “At the same time, the center’s cost of operations has accelerated at a pace that far exceeds its revenues. As a result, the College has invested ever increasing amounts from its general fund in order to balance the center’s budget. The operations are unsustainable.”
During the public comment section of the meeting, Patricia Standley, who works at the child care center, said: “As an employee to have our jobs dangle is not very kind.”
She was one of three people who spoke prior to a discussion by the board on the topic.
Board member Betty Tamm asked to include a preference for placement of children of UCC students and encourage to hire the existing staff. “I’d like to see and encourage retention,” she said.
Even if the staff is hired to stay on at the child care center, it is likely they’ll see a drop in wages and benefits. Child care staff falls under a collective bargaining unit at UCC, and with a new employer they would likely see wages and benefits more typical of those working in the child care industry in Douglas County.
Those additions to the request for proposal, as well as a few others discussed by the board, are the reason the board voted for final approval.
Thatcher said she hopes the proposal will go out before the May board meeting. Thatcher said she is “highly confident” that a suitable community partner will take over operations of the child care center.
The administration worked with The Ford Family Foundation to analyze the center’s operations in the past two months.
In a summary, the consultant found requiring full-time monthly rates would be a more sustainable model, staying open until 5:30 p.m. would better serve the community, adding a classroom would be beneficial, fees can be increased, integrating the expertise and management of the center director with the academic program may result in more stable leadership, and increasing the amount of full-time staff would provide more stability.
In response to the analysis, Thatcher wrote that increasing the fee and changing the model to full-time monthly rates may price some students out of child care, extended hours have not worked for the center in the past, not all spots are getting filled as is and adding a classroom would require additional investment, integration between the center director and early child education was tried last year but the work load was so demanding “it disallowed adequate attention to both the academic program and the child care center” and hiring a full-time employee would increase the cost for the college and has not yielded greater recruitment in the director’s position.
“To me this indicates, no matter how we look at it, the problem still won’t be solvent. And not by a little bit, but by a lot. We’re out looking for ways to try to save the program in a sense for those who receive the services, but we’re not dispassionate to those who are providing it,” board member David Littlejohn said. “This is really a casualty of the environment. In the budgetary cycle, as you’ve just seen we’re lobbying for resources for community colleges in general. We’re just spread really thin and we look at where the money goes and at some point you have to make this really tough decision about where the resources get prioritized. And it’s a hard decision, but it’s a necessary decision.”
The Ford Childhood Enrichment Center opened in 1994 and cares for children ranging in ages from 6 months to 5 years old. It also serves as an educational space for college students. FCEC has 34 children enrolled. The decision to transfer operations would impact 20 students, eight employees and 12 community members.