U parents brace for potential child care center cuts

One hours-reduction measure was proposed for mid-March, but will be held until May 15.

Lois Harrison, a University of Minnesota School of Public Health staffer , loves her childcare center. SheâÄôs used the University of Minnesota Child Care Center for both of her children, and she praised its âÄúmarvelous careâÄù and the staff of âÄútreasuresâÄù that work there. But some parents using the popular center are nervous about what budget cuts could bring, and want reassurance that the University is committed to maintaining its excellence. An administration change may also be in the works, as the College of Education and Human Development, which houses and subsidizes the center, is recommending realigning it with central administration. Parents laud the center for its outstanding teachers, effective curriculum, diversity and teacher-child ratios that exceed state regulations. In fact, its reputation has left it with a waiting list of more than 600 children âÄî more than three times its capacity of about 150. Though University analyst and project manager Susan Geller got on the centerâÄôs waiting list when she was just a couple of weeks pregnant, her now 3-and-a-half-year-old daughter was about one when she got in. âÄúLiterally, the center is often the first people that know that people are pregnant,âÄù she said. For Geller, no other center came close to the UniversityâÄôs in quality, so she and her husband rearranged their lives to care for their daughter at home until she got a spot at the center. âÄúWeâÄôre not the only family that does that,âÄù she added. ItâÄôs a boon to the University, she said, because parents with kids at the center, âÄúfeel 100 percent confident,âÄù and are better able to focus on work. However, Gellar said many parents are concerned about how the center will be affected by University budget cuts. âÄúI think itâÄôs touching all parts of our lives and I think it feels really scary to us in a different way when it touches where our children are,âÄù she said. Christine Salomon , University professor and member of the Parent Consultative Committee , an advisory group for the center, said sheâÄôd like to see the University put more resources into it, as itâÄôs used by faculty, staff and students throughout campus, and by departments as a recruiting tool. She said sheâÄôd like to see the University directly funding the center so the college doesnâÄôt have to foot the bill for operating costs not covered by parent fees, though sheâÄôd like it to remain a part of the college. For fiscal year 2008-2009, the CEHD subsidized about 12 percent of the centerâÄôs expenditures âÄî more than $270,000. The college is exploring a move for the center, as stated in its 2009 Compact, released Friday to the CEHD community. The compact is the collegeâÄôs proposal to the University provost for the direction and vision of the college for the next few years, CEHD Chief of Operations Ryan Warren said. The compact states the connection to CEHD is âÄúan accident of history, not strategic positioning,âÄù and goes on to say that the center âÄúwould benefit from alignment with central administration.âÄù That means funding would come from the University rather than the college. Warren said the collegeâÄôs mission is to advance research and teaching related to human development, and providing a service like childcare isnâÄôt part of that mission. However, he said, itâÄôs not yet clear whether or when a change will be made, as the college has recently begun talking about it with central administration. For now, the college is planning as if the center will remain a part of it, he said. He added that the college doesnâÄôt yet know what cuts it will hand down to the center, but that it has been asking everyone at the college to plan for less money. In February, parents were caught off-guard when the center proposed cutting an hour and increasing fees. The announcement brought protest from parents, and center director Ann Edgerton said she responded by delaying any hours change until the semesterâÄôs end. She doesnâÄôt yet know what hours or fees changes sheâÄôll need to make, but said both may be necessary. âÄúIâÄôm in the business of childcare, but I also have to run a business,âÄù she said. About 90 percent of operating costs are staff , and she said sheâÄôs out of places to cut. But she said sheâÄôs found college administrators recognize that and hasnâÄôt heard talk of cutting parts of the program or reducing its quality. Aerospace engineering and mechanics professor Perry Leo , who co-chairs the Parent Consultative Committee, said he thinks the hours debate comes from differences over the centerâÄôs mission. âÄúI think there is tension between parents who want the facility to basically be a childcare facility like any other, thatâÄôs open basically whenever they need it be open,âÄù he said, âÄúand the center administration and CEHD administration who want it to be more of a model early childhood education program and less of a standard daycare.âÄù Potential hour changes have some parents concerned about their access to the center. âÄúMany of us wonder whether weâÄôll be able to afford the center with shorter hours and more fees,âÄù Geller said. ItâÄôs the only place on campus, she said, where faculty, staff and students interact as peers, and sheâÄôs concerned fee hikes would jeopardize the diversity she values. And as employers cope with the tough economy, jobs become more demanding, making it harder for parents to work around shortened child care center hours. âÄúItâÄôs just trying to make something that would work for as many people as possible,âÄù Harrison said. âÄúYou have people that have to be at their work really early, people who have to stay a little bit later, and trying to find a marriage between that is the hard part.âÄù