UMN staff and students air childcare concerns at forum

The Provost’s Child Care Advisory Committee will host another forum on May 3.

by Helen Sabrowsky

A University of Minnesota committee tasked with finding cost-effective Twin Cities childcare options before the eventual closure of the University’s Child Development Center met with community members last week to discuss the school’s childcare needs. 

Faculty, staff and students at the listening session Thursday expressed concerns over the proximity and quality of alternative childcare centers, as well as lengthy waitlists. Some called for the preservation and expansion of the CDC. 

Outrage and protest followed the University’s January announcement that the 44-year-old center would close in summer 2019 due to budget constraints and to make room for an expansion of the Shirley G. Moore Laboratory School. In February, University President Eric Kaler announced the closure would be postponed until the school could explore alternative childcare options.

The Provost’s Child Care Advisory Committee, which will meet again on May 3, is focused on determining campus-wide childcare needs and what the University can do to meet them, said committee co-chair Amy Pittenger. 

“It’s not just how do you keep the childcare center going,” said Dan Feeney, committee co-chair. “The entire Twin Cities campus has a childcare problem.”

The committee aims to find a solution by August, Pittenger said.

Megan Kocher, a University science librarian whose daughter attends the center, said based on the listening session and the work of the committee, she is hopeful the center won’t fully close. 

While the University has been communicating and working with parents of children at the center to find alternative childcare options on campus, administration has not been as communicative with the center’s staff and teachers, she said. 

Staff and teachers at the center have not received any additional information on the impending closure of the CDC, said Lily Bray, an office and administrative specialist at the center. 

“We aren’t hearing anything other than the emails the entire college gets,” she said. “A lot of us feel undervalued.”

While no teachers or staff members have quit, some are concerned that if staff start to leave, the center won’t be able to provide the high-quality care the center promises, Bray said. 

“The morale wavers, but parents have been really wonderful,” she said. “Not only are they doing all of this work to fight the closure, but they’re also bringing us cards and treats, little things to keep our morale up. It’s done a lot to bring our community together.”

The announcement of the closure shocked staff and teachers at the center — which has an 18-24 month waitlist. Many teachers at the center found out about the closure from parents picking up their children, said Bray. 

“This is a great opportunity for the University to prove where their priorities are,” Bray said. “Are their priorities with expanding sports facilities and golf courses or is it going to be with investing in the future citizens of the world and helping the University pave the way by providing good care?”