By Gabe Licht
DELANO, MN Parents of the 52 children who attend the Cherub Corner Child Care Center will need to find a new daycare provider by June 19. Staff at the facility will also be looking for new jobs.
Father Paul Kammen of the Parish of St. Maximilian Kolbe, which has operated the daycare since the mid-‘90s, has written letters to parents, staff, and parishioners to inform them of the closure.
“With both enthusiastic excitement for new possibilities, and yet sadness of loss, I am writing this letter to officially inform you that the Cherub Corner Childcare Center will be closing on June 19, 2015,” Kammen wrote to parishioners.
Kammen said the decision was primarily based on wanting to use the space for “activities that better fit our parish mission,” but also noted finances were considered, due largely to a change in how the archdiocese assesses the parish.
“The new assessment formula for the archdiocese states that all daycare gross revenue before expenses is assessed at 8 percent for our parish,” Kammen wrote to parishioners. “This will cause the daycare to lose $25,000 to $30,000 this year. With no indication that this assessment policy will change and the daycare income suffering significantly in future years from it, we made the most prudent decision for our parish.”
The parish’s two trustees joined Kammen in making the decision.
“The archdiocese had absolutely nothing to do with saying we had to close,” Kammen told the Delano Herald Journal. “This was a completely local decision.”
He also noted that assessment funds cannot be used for legal fees, as he has heard suggested.
Preston Allex, the business administrator for the parish, provided a financial snapshot of the past five years at Cherub Corner.
“For those first three years, they were at a break-even point,” Allex said. “Our new director took over and started making changes, so it made a $6,000 profit. Last year, it made a $31,000 profit.”
In contrast, the daycare lost more than $7,000 in the first quarter of 2015.
“The reason we’re losing money is some of our benefit packages that were offered, the costs of those were increased,” Allex said.
Part of the benefit package includes assistance on daycare fees at a cost of $7,000 per child. Five children are receiving discounted rates, compared to one child a year ago, Allex said.
“We were hoping they’d make up that lost revenue and maybe not hurt the parish, but then we found out about this assessment change, so the overall hit is about $30,000,” Allex said.
Parish leadership did not believe raising rates to offset the increases to be a viable solution.
“We didn’t want to raise rates to the point where people can’t afford it,” Allex said. “If we have rates too high, kids can drop out, and we’d have to cut staff.”
Alli Zens, a parishioner who has had three children attend the daycare, believes parents should have been given the option to pay more to keep the center open.
“My understanding is there was no outreach to parents asking if they could up the fees,” Zens said. “One mom, who is an accountant, said it would only cost $20 more per week. They’ll probably be paying that elsewhere now. It’s frustrating that that wasn’t presented as a question.”
Zens refers to the people she has met through the Cherub Corner as family.
“It was such an amazing experience,” Zens said. “They are amazing workers and it’s such a wonderful facility with such an amazing layout and use of space. As a parish member, I always thought it was a wonderful way to use extra church space.”
Kammen said in his letter to parishioners that the daycare space will be transformed into a new Parish Life and Youth Center that will be used for funeral luncheons, other parish events, and youth activities.
Members of the community will be able to rent the space for events, Allex said.
“Even though we won’t be able to provide a daycare, we’ll be able to offer a large gym, five classrooms, and a basement hall area we’d be able to open to any organization,” Allex said. “Larger funeral luncheons will be able to be held in our gym. That’s something we want to emphasize: We want to continue to support the community in a way, even though it’s a different scope.”
Allex estimates the parish could make “a few thousand dollars without the large overhead and liability of running the daycare.”
He pointed to a survey of parishioners that indicated support for Cherub Corner only if it is profitable.
“Many said it was great for the community and offering a great service,” Allex said. “The majority said it’s great if it’s making profit; otherwise, we don’t want it. That’s coming from parishioners. We’re trying to do our best to listen to the people of the parish and also be fiscally responsible with our funding.”
Zens regrets not being more vocal in her support of the center.
“Maybe we should have said how much we need it because I don’t think they realized how much of a gift it is to families,” Zens said.
She worries that families will be forced to enroll in daycares in other communities and take other business to those communities, as well.
“People are going to be taking their kids to daycare outside of the community, stop to get their kids in Long Lake, and get groceries and other things there, too,” Zens said. “I think it’s bad for business.”
She said she feels bad for the staff members who will be losing their jobs.
“It’s hard looking for a job,” Zens said. “They don’t have a lot of other options. There are workers who have been there almost the life of the daycare.”
Cherub Corner Director DeAnn Lommel said much of the staff has worked together for years.
“There are three staff members who have been here basically from the beginning,” Lommel said. “Another has been here 12 or 13 years. There’s longevity with our staff and we are very close knit. The biggest thing is it saddens us to see the end of Cherub Corner’s legacy of providing Christian-based childcare.
“It’s hard because it not only affects 10 or 11 staff members, but 40 families,” Lommel continued. “That’s the part that’s so hard on our staff because you can’t just call and find childcare the next day, especially in Delano. It all goes back to making sure our kids are OK.”
Allex noted that one employee had indicated an interest in opening a daycare.
“We’d be supportive of that and allow her to have some of our equipment for free,” Allex said. “We want to be supportive of our employees. Our ability to help them is limited by our resources.”
In a letter to staff, obtained by the Delano Herald Journal, the parish offered a severance package of one week’s pay for employees with five years or fewer of service, two week’s pay for employees with six to 10 years of service, and three week’s pay for employees with 11 or more years of experience. The parish will pay the individual medical insurance premium pursuant to COBRA through Aug. 31 for those enrolled in the parish group medical insurance plan by April 1. The parish will also provide a letter of reference to assist with job-search efforts.
“As painful as it is to close a good daycare and affect people’s lives, for the long-term needs of the parish, it’s what needs to be done,” Kammen said.