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Highline Community College's daycare needs about $307,000 to stay open

Highline Community College announced the closure of both the Early Childcare Learning Center and the Federal Way campus last month as a way to cut costs.

At a Feb. 3 forum on the closure of Highline's daycare center, located at the main Des Moines campus, parents asked: What is the amount they need to raise to keep the daycare center open?

The answer: About $307,000 a year.

The breakdown

• Highline's total budget last year was $37.8 million.

• The governor's budget cut $2.1 million from the school's annual funding.

• In 2007-2008, revenue brought in by the daycare was $426,294.

• The school's Students and Activities fund supported made up a difference of $69,729, according to Highline's budget.

• However, the daycare's building costs about $307,727 to operate. That cost was paid through the school's General Fund, raising the total costs of the daycare to about $734,021.

• The remaining costs for the daycare totaled $179,358. In 2007-2008, that funding came through grants.

• Total operating cost for the daycare center in 2007-2008 budget: $983,108.91

• This year, the daycare was bringing in more revenue than last year. Highline had its highest enrollment to date, with many students coming back to school after losing their jobs.

Suggestions

At last month's forum, daycare staff members said they had more than 100 students in the daycare in the fall quarter.

Many parents at the forum suggested raising prices slightly for the daycare program. Even with a raise of $1 an hour, the Highline program would still be more affordable than many other daycare programs in the area, parents said. For example: If 50 of the roughly 100 students in daycare during the fall quarter were full-time 50 weeks a year, and paid an extra $1 an hour, the daycare could bring in an additional $100,000.

Highline's response

For now, the school plans to let the building sit vacant next year, leaving the possibility for a remodel for another use in the future. A student childcare task force is under way to look at childcare options for both students and faculty, who may face the prospect of leaving school without affordable daycare, spokeswoman Lisa Skari said.

Highline officials have stated repeatedly that this was a difficult decision to make.

"It's a great facility," Skari said. "It's just too expensive for right now. It was a very difficult decision and none of us like it. We wish the state wasn't in this position."

Skari also said that the school had several conversations with legislators about funding and also looked at many options — but they just weren't successful at finding ones that would fill the gap.

About $70,000 from the services and activities fund goes toward the daycare. 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.

Background

The daycare has been at Highline for over 30 years. 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.

Just five years ago, the school built a new facility for the on-site daycare program, which Highline president Jack Bermingham has called the "best in the state."

At last month's forum, Bermingham said the program was chosen as a place to cut because it affected the least amount of students. Several teachers complained that without the affordable childcare on campus, they would be unable to continue teaching there. Students also wondered how they would be able to keep attending school while paying the high costs of childcare.

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.

FYI

Green River Community College still has a day care center for children six weeks old through kindergarten age. Fees for the care are on a sliding scale based on age of the child, gross monthly or annual income, and family size.

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