EvCC pauses closing Early Learning Center due to public outcry
Rick Sinnett photo
Dozens of union members and supporters rallied Nov. 30 with protest signs and a small selection of speakers in the Jackson Conference Center on Everett Community College’s campus the night of the college’s board meeting.
EVERETT — Everett Community College paused the closure of its Early Learning Center, slated for June 2022 at the end of the school year, after pressure from parents and the Washington Federation of State Employees (WFSE) union.
The college says it’s now going to look for permanent funding to keep it open.
A loud cheer arose in the Henry M. Jackson Conference Center at EvCC Tuesday, Nov. 30 when the pause was announced during the Board of Trustees meeting.
It was a welcome reprieve for the parents and children who depend on the center for child care through the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP). ECEAP is a state-funded program that gives free early learning childcare and skill-building preschool for three and four year olds, primarily for children in low-income households or with special needs.
The Early Learning Center (ELC) isn’t a place where people park their kids. It’s a holistic educational development program with a learning curriculum.
If it closes, some college students who are parents would lose their only option to go to school.
The college says 20% of students are parents, according to a July 20, 2020 EvCC press release. One of those students delivered a speech to the board in which she said she would not have made it through the third quarter of the nursing program without the Early Learning Center’s presence.
The college is saying the root of its closure decision is money.
Joe Whalen, EvCC Vice President of Human Resources, said in an interview that the ELC “is not financially viable for the college to continue to operate the center. In the five years before the pandemic, the ELC’s operating costs were greater than the amount of revenue the ELC generated — a loss of more than $700,000 in those five years. The college cannot afford to continue to operate the ELC at a loss. The pandemic has resulted in a decrease in enrollment at the ELC and significant challenges in operations.”
EvCC’s math doesn’t add up, according to former ELC Director Kristina Saunsaucie.
During her time running thethe ELC, she won the college’s George Shuh Outstanding Exempt Award in 2019 for “leading the ELC to a profit for two years in a row,” a period that overlaps when the college says the center lost $700,000 over five years.
Saunsaucie explained that the Board of Trustees always included a portion of the ELC’s annual budget when it approves the college’s operating budget every year. The funds only cover the director and administrative assistant’s salaries. Saunsaucie said, “...from the time I started six years ago was that the college believed this was an important program for the campus and therefore included this annually. To come back now and say that (this) has caused the ELC to be at a deficit is simply not true.”
Saunsaucie said the deficit was never discussed during her regular meetings with the budget department and her supervisor and would have made the needed adjustments to increase grant funding to remain financially stable.
When asked who decided to close the ELC, Whalen said, “EvCC President Dr. Daria Willis, in recognition of broad support for the decision amongst the Board of Trustees.”
In letters the college sent to parents and employees, dated Nov. 23, of the closure, it added that “the YMCA of Snohomish County has stepped forward as a very worthy possible partner in this endeavor.”
WFSE union Council Representative Julie Frost raised a question of ethics regarding the YMCA’s offer to lease the ELC building.
Kelly Shepherd, a member of EvCC’s board of trustees, also sits on the board of directors for the YMCA.
Shepherd released a statement where she wrote, in part: “In my community roles as an Everett Community College Trustee and Board Chair of the Everett Y branch, I am acutely
aware of the potential perception of a conflict regarding discussions over the EvCC Early Learning Center. That is why in meetings with each organization, I have openly acknowledged that potential and stated my commitment to recuse myself from any vote regarding this issue, even though any decisions are likely to be made at the staff level and won’t require a vote of either board. It’s important to note that I had no knowledge of any negotiations regarding the ELC prior to joining the EvCC Board of Trustees in October of this year.”
The children wouldn’t be the only ones to lose their learning environment. Susie Wilson of the EvCC nursing department said EvCC’s
nursing students would lose their pediatric site where they do their practicums. Wilson said the students take height and weight measurements and provide vision and hearing screens for the children.
For more information on EvCC’s Early Learning Center, go to www.everettcc.edu/students/elc
For more information on the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP), go to www.dcyf.wa.gov/services/earlylearning-childcare/eceap-headstart
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