Decision on child care center on hold again

MARSHALL — Marshall can’t afford to lose any child care options, a group of area parents trying to keep the Marshall Area Childcare Center open said Tuesday night.

“Our community is facing a child care shortage,” said Melissa Speakman. Currently, there are no infant or toddler openings at local day care centers, with dozens of names on the waiting lists, she said.

“There is no issue communities contact us more frequently on than child care,” said Scott Marquardt, vice president of the Southwest Initiative Foundation.

“We on the school board don’t want to see the center go away either,” said board chairman Jeff Chapman. But board members said the school district also can’t afford to keep running a child care center at a $60,000 annual loss. If MACC is going to stay open past June, some serious changes will need to happen, they said.

After discussion at their regular meeting, the board gave community members some additional time to try and make those changes. Board members voted unanimously to delay the decision on whether to close MACC for another 60 days. In that time, a task force facilitated by SWIF will form to study and propose alternatives for the daycare center.

Last month, the school board raised the question of whether to close down MACC effective July 1. The child care center had been operating at a loss for at least the past five years. In 2020, partly due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the center had a deficit of nearly $116,000.

The board gave community members a chance to weigh in with alternatives, and a group of area parents reached out to the school district, and organizations like SWIF and First Children’s Finance, a nonprofit that specializes in financial guidance for child care.

On Tuesday, the group presented some initial findings from First Children’s Finance, and asked for a 60-day delay to try and make some changes to save MACC.

Jessica Beyer, of First Children’s Finance, said she agreed that MACC would probably always be in the red if it continues to operate as it does now, although there were some things the center was doing very well.

Beyer said MACC has an excellent program, and does a good job managing staffing levels. “They’re not overstaffing a lot,” she said. However, she said, “There are some issues I saw.”

For example, Beyer said, MACC has variable tuition rates for families, which can be hard to work with. The center is also paying the cost of fees for online bill payment, and is closed for about 18 school days a year.

“That’s about a month of income” the center misses out on, she said.

There were a variety of changes MACC could make to have a more sustainable cash flow, Beyer said. Some of her suggestions included changing the center’s rate structure from hourly to weekly, adjusting the ratio of toddler and infant placement slots at the center, doing more with school-age child care, and forming community partnerships to help offset deficits. Many child care centers attached to schools are run through local Community Education programs, which allows for more operating hours and flexibility for staffing and wages, she said.

While school board members said they appreciated the work that went into the group’s proposal, they still weren’t sure Marshall Public Schools could continue to operate MACC.

“I have a deep concern,” especially given size of the deficits MACC has show over the years, said board member Bill Swope. MACC’s funding comes from MPS general fund dollars that could potentially go toward K-12 education. Plus, a $1.27 billion state budget shortfall is projected for 2022 and 2023, which could mean budget cuts for education, he said. “Given the forecast, we cannot continue to operate in the red.”

So far, potential community partners for MACC have not stepped up to the plate, Swope said.

Board member Aaron Ziemer said it would be good to make use of the expertise First Children’s Finance brought to the table, and find ways to improve MACC’s financial situation. “I’m willing to learn. I’m willing to be part of the solution,” he said.

Board members ultimately granted the 60-day request to develop a proposal for MACC. Marquardt said SWIF would facilitate the group.


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