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Daycare and campus closures sting students at Highline Community College
Highline Community College's decision last week to end several programs has affected children from one end of childhood to the other.
Both the school's daycare program, which is housed at the main campus in Des Moines, and the Puget Sound Early College, housed at the Federal Way campus, have been cut.
The college cited a need to drastically cut its budget after losing $2.1 million in state funding. The program cuts were announced Jan. 30.
"We made awful decisions," Highline president Jack Bermingham said. "We cut tremendous programs. They were close to our hearts and it's heartbreaking...We only ask that you understand the difficult choices we made."
Students and faculty, along with many children, showed up angry and upset to a forum on Tuesday, regarding the closure of the on-site daycare program that has been around for 30 years.
Just a few years ago, the school built a new facility for the program, which Bermingham has called the "best in the state."
Bermingham said the program was chosen as a place to cut because it affected the least amount of students.
"It's hard to argue childcare is as important as instruction," Bermingham said.
However, several teachers complained that without the childcare on campus, which is far more affordable than anything in the surrounding area, they would be unable to continue teaching there.
Students also wondered how they would be able to keep attending school. Many students said they were returning to school after losing their jobs in the past year — while paying the high costs of childcare.
"$800 a month is not affordable," said one woman. "What are we supposed to do?"
The childcare program's cost ranges from $4.95 to $7.85 an hour for students and staff. The program also includes schooling for children 12 months and up as well as meals. Many other childcare facilities cost anywhere from $700 to $1,200 a month — and parents said that those programs were not near the quality of Highline's program.
"I've looked into other daycares," Robin Matthews said. "There are none at the same level. This has been open for 30 years. My child's teacher has been there over 20 years. This has been a value to the community for 30 years. I can't see it closing."
Bermingham and other officials said they will look into options for the students with children.
Due to state regulations, they cannot outsource the daycare program; however, they can do a real estate transaction and lease the site.
Another option is using some of the student fees to help parents offset the costs.
Currently, some of the student fees go to the daycare — about $72,000 from the services and activities fund. The college is considering asking the student government, which regulates those funds, to use that money for vouchers. This would enable parents to bring in their outside childcare bill and get some of that money back. This wouldn't guarantee that the childcare would be as affordable as the Highline daycare nor, as parents pointed out, would the care and education their children receive be in the same caliber.
Puget Sound Early College
High school students are also effected by the budget cuts.
Puget Sound Early College (PSEC), which is a branch of the Running Start program, allows students to take college classes and receive both high school and college credits for the same class. Students are then able to graduate high school with an associate's degree. While Running Start allows students to do the same things, PSEC students are in classes of only high school students and also receive more one-on-one time with teachers. Staff also helps students pick which classes to take.
The program has been housed at the Highline's Federal Way campus, on 1st Avenue South. However, the lease on the building ends in October and the school decided not to renew the lease — thus ending the PESC program as well as GED and English as a second language program held at the Federal Way campus.
The lease and the facility costs the school more than $400,000 a year.
Highline is letting 44 staff members go, including 11 faculty, in this cut.
Students worried about adjusting to being regular Running Start students, which classes they would need to take, and the future for their teachers.
"What does that say about you?" junior Mikaela Marion asked about Highline's decision to let the teachers go.
Parents, however, worried more about what the switch in programs would mean for their students.
"It's just wrong," parent Brain Schimpf said. "(The students) made a commitment to you and you made it to them. Provide them the assistance they need to finish this."
Highline officials said that PSEC students would not be left to their own devices, and would have counselors to help with the transition. However, when students pressed for how much help they would receive and whether they would be able to keep their current "cohort," Highline officials never gave a direct answer.
The Federal Way campus will remain open through the end of summer, allowing for classes to finish.
There will be one more forum about the closure of the Federal Way Campus at 7 p.m. Feb. 11 at 33320 1st Way S., building A.