Ogeechee Technical College is closing its Child Enrichment Center due to concerns for children's safety on a college campus as well as financial issues. However, some parents are unhappy with the decision.
"I'm very, very upset," said Jennifer Clark, who will be one of many parents seeking placement for their children elsewhere. "Mostly about the timing."
A letter from OTC President Dawn Cartee explaining the decision was mailed March 28. Clark received a copy.
"While the exact date of suspension of service has not yet been determined, it is anticipated that (the closing) will be by August 2008," Cartee wrote.
The news came as a surprise, as the college "just had preregistration," Clark said. Now, it could be too late for parents to find a place for their children. "There's a waiting list for day care."
Barry Turner, OTC's executive director for public relations, said other day care services are readily available in the county.
"There are quite a few day cares in the county," he said. "There are about 50-some odd in our immediate area. Hopefully, there will be no problems finding a spot."
Clark isn't as optimistic. She didn't mind commenting about the college's decision, but said many other parents, including some college employees, were very upset about the decision to close the program.
"If we'd just had an inkling (before preregistration) we could have registered somewhere else," she said.
When Cartee (who was not immediately available for comment as she was out of town) announced the decision by mail late last month, she expressed in the letter sent to parents that the decision was made "with a sense of sincere regret, yet deep conviction ..."
Turner said the reasons were twofold: a concern for safety of small children on a college campus, and the fact that income from the day care program did not support the costs.
"I assure you this decision has been reached after extensive thought and evaluation ..." Cartee wrote.
Concern for children's safety
Clark said she knew of no past incident at Ogeechee Tech that would prompt a concern about child safety. But Turner listed a number of dangerous situations that occurred within the past few years at other college campuses, and said the school did not feel comfortable putting young children at risk.
"There have been no specific incidents at OTC but there have been elsewhere," he said. "We want to head off any problem that may develop, and didn't want the issue of having to worry about small children (should a dangerous situation occur)."
In the letter to parents, Cartee said "First and foremost, the safety of every child ... is of great importance to us ... You need only look at the news from around the country over the past weeks and months to know that a college campus is not always a safe place, and in my view, certainly not a safe place for a child care facility.
"Shootings, hostage situations, kidnappings and other incidents have sadly become commonplace on college campuses ... there are no guarantees."
But safety issues are only part of the reasons the college is choosing to end the CEC program, she said in the letter.
"A second issue ... is the strain on our budget which the center represents," she said. "Since 2003 a substantial portion of our annual budget is utilized each year to subsidize the operation of the CEC – all with local tuition dollars, without the support of state funds."
Turner said the income from the program, even with fees among the highest for local day care facilities, is not enough to support it. And cutting into funds meant for educational purposes isn't feasible, he said. "We need to focus on our primary purpose first."
"... while offering child care has been a noble undertaking, it is not our primary focus," Cartee said. "We cannot longer justify offering what is essentially a taxpayer supplemented child care program."
Turner said operating a daycare service through the college is more expensive than most because the employees are "state employees" and receive state benefits, which raise the cost.
Both she and Turner said raising fees for the child care program would not be feasible. To do so would "likely result in losing all our CEC children anyway," Cartee said.
The college's Early Childhood Care and Education program will not be affected, she said. "We will remain focused on producing quality graduates to serve the needs of the community."
Turner said students in that program are employed a interns at numerous day care facilities in the area, "as they've done all along."
The decision was made after lengthy consideration, he said.
"It was not a rash decision, made on a spur of the moment.," he said.
After exploring many possible solutions, the college leaders and board of directors felt closing the daycare program was the most sensible answer, he said.