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Kanawha Schools to close 3 day care facilities

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - The Kanawha County School Community Education Program announced Tuesday it will close its three day care centers by March 28, citing an annual deficit of $65,000 as the reason.

The closing of West Virginia Public Employees Day Care, Elk Center Day Care and Shawnee Community Day Care Center will affect 40 employees and 120 children under the age of 4.

"It was a difficult decision to make," said Bob Calhoun, executive director of elementary education in Kanawha County.

"We understand it will be a hardship on the parents and staff, but we didn't just make a decision (overnight). We have been looking at this for several months."

Calhoun said the $65,000 deficit could be attributed to decreased enrollment, need for several facility repairs and increased costs, partly because of requirements of the Affordable Care Act.

Employees were informed of the coming closures at a meeting Monday, and parents received written notification Tuesday when they dropped their children off.

Clifton Clark sends his 7-month-old son to West Virginia Public Employees Day Care, located on Charleston's East End, and his 3-year-old daughter was set to attend in the summer. He said the deficit did not seem like a good enough reason to justify closing all three centers.

"I would just say that I was surprised," Clark said. "I was very surprised and very disappointed. There was no indication whatsoever that the center would close."

John Tice, web designer for the West Virginia Legislature, sends his 4-year-old and 18-month-old to West Virginia Public Employees Day Care because many day cares will not enroll infants.

"That's why the Public Employees Day Care is kind of unique in a lot of ways," he said.

Because the state Department of Health and Human Resources mandates varying teacher-to-student ratios for children 2 years old or younger, many day cares do not accept infants because of the increased cost of hiring additional employees. Calhoun said the mandate caused a strain because it was costly to have a high number of employees care for a low number of children.

Though connected to Kanawha County Schools, West Virginia Public Employees Day Care, Elk Center Day Care and Shawnee Community Day Care Center were self-supporting, meaning they did not receive funds from the county. Calhoun said the centers were nonprofits and were operated as a service to the community.

Salaries and operating costs were paid for with profits from various classes, before-school and after-school care programs the county provided.

Calhoun said he hopes all 40 employees can be retained and encourages them to apply for aide positions at county schools, though 20 county employees will also be let go and have the right of first refusal when a position opens up elsewhere.

"I'm sure places in the (Kanawha) Valley will want them," Calhoun said. "We had quality programs at all three places."

He said each day care employee is highly trained and certified to be an aide up to kindergarten level. At Monday's meeting, human resources representatives were present to help them understand the process of applying for jobs with Kanawha County Schools.

As for the children, Calhoun will give a list of local day cares that have been checked and vetted to provide the same quality of care.

Just hours after being notified, parents were already scrambling to find new Charleston-area day care centers. Clark spent most of Monday calling and visiting centers with hopes of finding something before his family is without child care.

One such day care is the Fort Hill Child Development Center in South Hills.

By 3 p.m. Monday, Executive Director Jean Hawks already had 10 parents visit and another 15 inquire by phone. She said she would give tours to families affected by the closing but that the waiting list already has more than 30 families on it.

Fort Hill is licensed to enroll 220 students, and Hawks said the day care is already at capacity and has been for several years.

"I'm very distressed I can't accommodate these parents," she said.

Hawks, who has run the Fort Hill Child Development Center for 26 years, once had two day care centers in Charleston. She said she chose to close one in November because provisions in the Affordable Care Act put too much pressure on her business.

Because of that decision, Hawks cannot employ more than 49 employees, thus limiting the amount of children enrolled at Fort Hill.

Hawks said Fort Hill is not the only Charleston-area day care at capacity and that she worries parents will have to turn to in-home care providers when they can't find a proper preschool.

She said in-home nannies often cannot provide the same level of care, attention and preschool education.

"I am very frustrated on behalf of these clients," she said.

Tice was frustrated parents weren't asked for input prior to the decision. He said there are ways to keep the centers open - like increasing fees - but potential solutions were not discussed with parents.

"That was never, ever discussed with any of the parents," he said. "We were just given the letter this morning from the director."

Tice said he doesn't have a back-up plan like a family member if he can't find a new day care before March 28.

"There seems to be blame on several different reasons in the letter," he said. "It's honestly a little cloudy in my opinion."

However, Tice talked with officials and other concerned parents and said he now understands why the centers have to close. He still isn't happy, though.

He said he expects state agencies to get involved, look into the situation and possibly prevent closure.

"I can't imagine there's nothing the DHHR can't do to stop them from straight-up closing the doors," he said. "There are 80 kids there and 25 employees. That's more than 80 families affected, and that's just the Public Employees Day Care."

Depending on how quickly parents find new day cares for their children and how quickly employees secure new jobs, the centers could close even sooner than March 28.

 


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