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School board postpones decision on closing day care

Looking for financial solutions for MACC, school board turns to public

MARSHALL — Everyone agreed it was a tough decision to make. The Marshall Area Childcare Center provided a much-needed service for local families, and the staff and programming were excellent, Marshall School Board members said.

At the same time, Marshall Public Schools leadership said they couldn’t ignore the financial impact the daycare was having on the school district. MACC has been operating at losses of $60,000 or more a year since at least 2015. Without a partner to run the center, the recommended option would be to close MACC effective July 1, said MPS Superintendent Jeremy Williams.

School board members, however, said they wanted to give Marshall community members a chance to be heard and possibly find an alternative. The board held off on making a final decision until Feb. 16 — but any proposals community members come up with will need to be sustainable, board members and MPS district staff warned.

Closing MACC without giving community members a chance to offer their solutions “would be a travesty, in my opinion,” said school board member Sara Runchey. However, she said, “It can’t be a one-year fix.”

“This is not an easy conversation for any of us,” Williams said at Tuesday night’s school board meeting. “We know there’s a lot of value in this program.” However, MACC had been operating at a loss for years. In 2015, the daycare had a deficit of $58,071. From 2016 through 2019, the center had deficits ranging from about $40,000 to $60,000 a year. In 2020, partly due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the deficit went up to $115,922. Without the help of $30,000 in grant funding, the projected deficit for 2021 would be $90,000, Williams said.

MPS staff said MACC doesn’t have full enrollment currently. MACC’s eight infant enrollment slots are all filled, 10 out of 14 toddler spots are filled, 14 out of 20 preschool spots are filled and five out of 15 spots for school-age children are filled. However, MPS Director of Business Services Dion Caron said even higher enrollment numbers wouldn’t be enough to solve the daycare’s financial problems on its own. MACC had higher enrollment in 2017 and 2018 and still had a deficit, he said.

“And every time we increase rates, we lose people,” Caron said.

“We’ve been trying to figure this out for several years,” said school board member Jeff Chapman. MACC originally started out as a program to help young mothers attending the former Marshall East Campus Learning Alternatives, and later became a full-time daycare, Chapman said. Part of the challenge in reducing costs at MACC is that, as a part of the school district, the center has different employee pay and benefits rules than privately-owned daycares, Chapman and MPS staff said.

“The best solution I see is to have a private entity own this,” Chapman said.

Williams said MPS had reached out to groups like the city of Marshall, the local EDA, the Marshall Area Chamber of Commerce, Lyon County and the Marshall Area YMCA to talk about local child care needs.

“COVID has had a big impact on a lot of daycares,” Williams said. Some area child care providers are also struggling during the pandemic, while others are maxed out on enrollment, he said. Some parents’ child care needs have changed because they’re at home with the children more, and some in-home daycare providers are also caring for fewer children as a COVID safety precaution, Williams said.

MPS had discussed options for MACC, like selling the program to a private operator or partnering with a business to take over the program. However, it looked like those options might not be possible, Williams said.

Instead, it was recommended to close MACC effective July 1. It would give families time to try and find other child care arrangements, and MACC staff time to look for other jobs, Williams said. Staff could potentially take new positions within MPS, he said. “We know we have non-certified openings in the school district.”

School board members said they had received lots of e-mails and questions from concerned families.

“I can empathize with those families,” said board member Bill Mulso. But the challenge was that MACC’s structure wasn’t financially sustainable, he said.

“We have a great program. . . That staff does a wonderful job,” said board member Aaron Ziemer. But the options to help MACC’s finances had downsides, he said. Raising rates might drive families away, and selling the daycare to a private operator would mean the program would change. “I don’t know if there is an easy answer.”

Board members including Runchey, Mulso and Matt Coleman said they wanted to continue the conversation with members of the public. Board members voted in favor of a motion to postpone action on MACC until their Feb. 16 meeting, to allow more time to have that conversation.

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