By: IZZA JATALA
When universities struggle with budgetary issues, the services they offer to students can become directly affected.
The Child Development Center (CDC) at IU South Bend has been around since the 1960s but is now faced with the request to be outsourced or risk its doors being closed for good.
Mary Wilham-Countway, director of the CDC, recently sent a letter to parents whose children attend the CDC.
“Increasing costs of staff, benefits, food, new state requirement as well as other university policies are having a huge impact on the Child Development Center,” she wrote.
Though funding issues for the CDC have been ongoing since last year’s budgetary meetings, Student Government President Lee Cohen said not many students who use the service were aware of the situation.
It was on March 7 that a letter from CDC by Wilham-Countway was sent to parents notifying them of the decision to find a new vendor.
The center services nearly 70 children according to last year’s budgetary committee report.
Lisa Carr is a parent of one of those children.
After reading the letter, she decided with her husband, who is also an IUSB student, to start a petition to raise support about the center’s situation.
“I don’t want it to be outsourced. I don’t want it to become like one of the chain daycares in the area, because maybe those teachers will not have the same kinds of qualifications or the same years of experience that I value so much right now. It could also mean price increases, changes in class size or the overall operations and program features could change. That’s the thing we don’t really know. Everything is uncertain at the moment,” Carr said.
Carr said she and her husband started the petition to show the center they care, and to voice their concerns about what’s happening.
They’ve been going around campus collecting signatures and sending around an online version in the hopes of rallying support.
“I counted on having this here to help get me through my education, to aid in my progress to get an IU degree. I feel that goal is in jeopardy as much as the daycare is itself,” said Carr.
Wilham-Countway said her main concern is finding a new vendor that will best serve the children.
Not only is Wilham-Countway an IUSB alumni, as many of the staff at the CDC typically are, she has been employed there for nearly 16 years starting as just an aid and working her way up.
She said the center means a lot to her, and her passion has always been in early childhood development, so she’s hoping the quality will not diminish during this transition.
Wilham-Countway said the staff currently includes five lead teachers, five full-time teachers’ assistants, five part-time aids and an administrative support specialist.
Their jobs may be at risk, depending on the chosen vendor’s staffing considerations.
“In this process, nothing will be done hastily. There is a committee that will meet and I believe the staff will be able to look at the proposals and give some feedback as well,” Wilham-Countway said.
In response to the student-led petition she said, “It’s showing us support. It makes me feel good to know that parents care what we do here.”
History of CDC’s budget issues
This isn’t the first issue with funding the CDC has experienced.
Cohen referenced the 2013 Budgetary Committee Report that included reasons from former SGA Treasurer, Paul Clayton, on why cuts would be made to the CDC.
It was reported that the CDC had been continually operating at a large deficit and could no longer be funded at the rates it had been in the past. There was also a clarification stating that the CDC funding shouldn’t come from the Student Activity Fee.
“CDC is a wonderful and advanced facility staffed by professionals, but the committee has concluded that the CDC is, in no way, a student ‘activity,’” the report stated.
The report showed that the SGA was in talks to eliminate funding altogether but decided to make it a gradual process after receiving further advisement from administration.
The plan stated they would incrementally cut funding for the CDC from the student activity fee budget by $20,000 per year until no more funds are provided.
During the 2012-13 academic year, the SGA funded the CDC $40,000, according to Cohen. During the 2013-14 academic year, the CDC received $20,000 in accordance with what Paul Clayton explained in the report, which came to about 3.6 percent of the CDC’s yearly operating budget. For the 2014-15 academic year, the CDC was set to receive no more funding.
Chancellor Terry Allison said he understands the student government’s decision to cut funding.
“I think where the SGA is coming from is what serves the most number of students, and they felt supporting a limited number of students was not the best use of their resources. I think they felt that the university should pay for it because it is a university-wide service,” said Allison.
Allison said the university has been subsidizing over $100,000 a year. This year they budgeted around $143,000 to cover any losses they have, so between things like operating costs and salaries, they’ve lost more even than that.
On the Kokomo and North West campuses of IU, similar budgetary issues caused the closing of their daycare centers, Allison said. Their administrations first wanted to look at how the center was servicing students.
“It turns out it’s a little over 70 percent of the parents with children enrolled at the center are IU South Bend students,” Allison said, adding that the other campuses served less students than they did.
Allison said the outcome for students using the service is good graduation rates and GPAs.
“I said ‘Wow, this is a real service to the campus, so how can we keep this going when we can’t afford to lose $140,000 plus a year?’” he said.
Allison said if you divide the number of dollars by number of students being serviced, it’s well over $2,000 dollars per student being subsidized.
He said the university’s revenues have been flat or falling as the costs go up, and that’s what’s creating this dilemma.
If a qualified vendor is not found, there is the potential the center could close.
“I would like to see the center stay open through our outsourcing efforts, that’s why we went in this direction. I said from the beginning my goal is to keep the center open if we can,” Allison said.
Cohen said he will support students who take issue with this situation.
“The most important thing I can do is making sure to the best of my ability that the childcare provider that is chosen to replace the current CDC meets the needs and standards expected by our students,” Cohen said.
Wilham-Countway said that the outcome of all this may not be entirely favorable to everyone, but if it will keep the business alive, it may just be worth preventing a well-loved organization close its doors.
“I’ve spent a lot of years here, so this has been really tough to go through. The most important thing to me is the children. The hope is we’ll find a vendor who has a focus on the children’s best interests in mind,” Wilham-Countway said.