Day care won't cut classes for next year

Day care won't cut classes for next year

Staff WriterApril 23, 2005 

A prestigious Raleigh day-care center will keep its classrooms open for another year, granting a temporary reprieve to working parents scrambling to find alternatives for their young children.

Leaders of the Jordan Child and Family Enrichment Center told parents at a meeting Thursday night that they would reverse their announcement last week that classrooms for infants, toddlers and 2-year-olds would close at the end of June.

The center opened in 2001 and has been hailed as a model in high-quality day care, particularly for children with special needs such as autism. It serves about 120 children from infants to 5-year-olds.

What parents and the larger community did not know, however, is that the center had been operating with the help of a $600,000-a-year subsidy from its parent organization, the Methodist Home for Children. The center announced the drastic service cuts because it could not continue depleting its reserves at that pace, officials said.

But after a week of meetings with parents and others, the center's board members have agreed to subsidize operations for one more year. In the meantime, the board will form a task force and hire a consultant to study the center and determine whether it can be made to break even.

"I am pleased. We're going to have a viable center," said Caroline Huffman, whose 3-year-old daughter, Anne Houston, is enrolled at the center. "We cannot provide services to anyone unless there is a viable center."

The Methodist Home for Children runs a variety of children's programs throughout Eastern North Carolina, including foster care and adoption services. In Raleigh, the nonprofit operates the Jordan Center as well as the Walnut Terrace Child Development Center, which serves about 40 children in the housing project of the same name.

The Methodist Home for Children had considered closing the younger grades at Walnut Terrace as well, but officials have decided to keep that day care's programs intact for another year as well.

In the interim, the board will study both centers "to see how we can go forward and continue to provide quality child care that can be affordable," said Anne Carver, who directs both centers.

Both centers rate five stars, the highest score in North Carolina's stringent child-care ratings. At the Jordan Center, the announcement last week sent the families of 30 young children into a panicked search for alternate care.

The impending closure was particularly wrenching for the parents of children with special needs who have come to view the center as the only one in the region providing high-quality care integrating their kids with those developing typically.

The latest announcement means that concern can wait. What's unknown is how many of the 20 teachers given layoff notices last week will also get a reprieve. Jordan officials are determined to retain the center's current level of quality.

The Methodist Home for Children boasts an endowment of roughly $13 million, according to its president, Mike Safley. But it has been depleting the fund by as much as 12 percent a year -- an unacceptably high rate, he said. The nonprofit can continue subsidizing both the Jordan center and the Walnut Terrace center, Safley said, but on a drastically reduced scale. The Methodist Home is undertaking systemwide cuts; it has reduced group homes from 21 to 12 in the past five years, and is cutting foster care staff from 22 to nine caseload managers, Safley said.

Staff writer Amy Gardner can be reached at 829-8902 or agardner@newsobserver.com.

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