BY GABE LICHT
MONTROSE, MN After five years of service, the Montrose Little KidKare daycare program will end March 30, affecting 24 families. Little KidKare is a birth to age 5 childcare center licensed by the Department of Human Services and operated through Buffalo-Hanover-Montrose Community Education.
“The district is no longer able to sustain the daycare program without substantially raising the fees to cover the daily operating costs,” according to a press release from the district.
BHM Communications Coordinator Laura Lindquist added that, as of June 30, 2017, the program housed in the Montrose Early Education Center was operating with a deficit of $104,000.
BHM Director of Community Education Kim Carlson said several options were explored for keeping the program operating, but the numbers did not add up for the district.
“We feel like we have left no stone unturned when trying to find a solution to continue the program,” Carlson said. “Given the size of the center, it’s nearly impossible to make the numbers work . . . We know this news is difficult for parents, and we hope this will allow enough time to find other child care.”
Rachel Casari is one of those parents.
“I was shocked because I had not heard anything about a deficit in the daycare; I had no warning,” Casari said of learning about the program’s fate Jan. 11.
She remembers when her family first got a spot at the center.
“I was so thrilled because of the small community that was at that daycare,” Casari said. “All of the teachers know all of the kids, and all the kids know all the teachers and all the other kids. It’s like a family there. I was really excited to be a part of that.”
Casari’s older child will now qualify for the Montrose KidKare program, which has been extended to offer all-day preschool to children ages 3 to 5. However, because she will need to find a new daycare provider for her younger child, both children will need to move to a new center.
“Two drop-offs in two cities at two different times is really not feasible,” Casari said, noting that their younger child will likely need to attend a center in Buffalo. “The reality is my daughter who is a preschooler, and could potentially stay there, won’t be able to. I think a lot of families who have an older child and a younger child are feeling the same way.”
She is concerned about her daughter having to transition to a new center with new teachers and kids.
“I’m concerned about her continued learning,” Casari said. “She’s learned so much from these teachers. They know her so well. They know when she needs to be challenged and when she’s ready for the next thing. I’m a teacher myself. That’s a skill, like a gift, to be able to know your students so well that you know how to meet their needs.”
In addition to those concerns, Casari said the change will not be convenient or cheap. Instead of a 45-minute commute to her job in Chaska, it will likely take her about an hour and a half to get to work after driving to Buffalo first. In addition, the rates at the new center will be higher.
“If we have to pay higher rates somewhere else, why weren’t we offered a tuition hike at Little KidKare? Many of us would be very willing to pay it to be able to stay and have the same education,” Casari said.
Carlson said that was not a viable option.
“We would have to decrease salary and benefits for current staff while substantially increasing the tuition fees, making it very unaffordable for families,” she said.
Now, some staff members will be laid off, though Lindquist did not say how many, while others will be able to transfer to jobs in the KidKare program.
She said Superintendent Scott Thielman, Director of Finance and Operations Gary Kawlewski, and Carlson concluded in late December that the Little KidKare would have to close.
“The board was informed and supported the decision,” Lindquist said. “No formal board action is necessary for this closure.”
How the district handled the situation frustrated Casari.
“As a school board, as elected officials, they should be responsive to the children they serve,” she said. “The fact is, we were not informed this was a possibility. Transparency should be what happens with the school board because they serve a community. That community elected them. My major question to the school board is ‘Is this how you operate?’ Because that’s not OK.”
Casari initially planned to address the school board at Monday’s meeting, and invited other parents to join her. The district then announced school board members, along with Thielman and Carlson, would be available to answer questions during a meeting at 7 p.m. Thursday, after this edition went to press.
“The meeting is for the families to help further clarify any questions they may have about the closure,” Lindquist said.
She also said the Montrose Early Education Center will continue to offer Early Childhood Family Education programming, School Readiness Preschool, Early Childhood Special Education Services, Early Childhood Screening, and Head Start, in addition to additional opportunities for more ECFE infant and toddler classes.