By Rosalyn Aquila
From a childs perspective, the building is a colorful world. Family photographs and student artwork decorate the cupboards. Low windows let students peek into the backyard playground. Every room has miniature tables, chairs and toys.
Equipped with child toilet stations for potty-training, safe spaces with comforting pillows for when students need to take time for themselves and an outdoor playground for both climbing toddlers and school-age children, the Gambier Child Care Center was designed for children.
Similarly, with low student-to-teacher ratios, child-care development workshops, a staff certified with both associates degrees and bachelors degrees in early childhood education and flexible hours to work with parents schedules, the Gambier Child Care Center was designed for parents, too.
Established in November of 2007, the Center, an affiliate of Knox County Head Start located behind the Kenyon Athletic Center, boasts a Star Two rating a level of quality that exceeds Ohios childcare licensing standards. It provides extra services such as family support, child health and mental health programs and on-call child developmental experts, according to Peg Tazewell, executive director of Knox County Head Start.
But, this kind of care doesnt come cheap. And although the College built the center in part for the Kenyon community, this cost means the centers services are inaccessible to some, according to many Kenyon employees.
With this sentiment in mind, the Presidential Advisory and Communications Team (PACT), which helps employees communicate with the President, submitted a proposal on Monday, April 23 to President S. Georgia Nugent addressing the issues of cost and accessibility.
Executive Assistant to the Associate Provosts Amy Quinlivan first brought the issue of affordability to PACT in mid-March, hoping to work alongside members of the committee to write a proposal addressing the need to make child care a benefit for all employees. Thats the goal, Quinlivan said. To have this truly as a benefit that every employee at Kenyon who needs or wants to use it has the ability to use it.
Among the 46 families who currently use the Center, 23 are linked to Kenyon. Only one child of a College non-exempt staff member is enrolled, compared to 16 children of faculty and administrators.
Quinlivan, who has one daughter at the Center and an in-home provider with her infant son, is financially unable to send both of her children to the Center. My children are separated right now, said Quinlivan. As a staff member, its not doable its completely out of reach now for me with two kids. If I would send my son and daughter there, it would be over 60 percent of my take-home pay.
This alleged gap between employee salary and the Centers cost is one that has been brought to Nugents attention before. The person who is raising the strongest concerns claims that this takes too much of her salary, Nugent said. Well, child care typically takes a part of your salary, you know, so how one evaluates how much is too much is a fairly subjective sort of thing.
The proposal, which was not made available to the Collegian, presented research comparing costs of childcare facilities in the surrounding areas to those of the Gambier Child Care Center.
We just presented an option as far as this is the research weve found, said Aimee Parsley-White, administrative assistant for art history and a member of PACT. These are the area centers that Gambiers competing with; these are the options for families who cant afford the Center; this is where theyre going, and this is why.
Fine Arts Librarian Carmen King, exempt co-chair of PACT, said the proposal could eventually lead to a lowered cost for staff and administration that resembles a sliding scale model. We really did not include in this proposal faculty or other members of the community, she said. We were talking simply about staff and administrators who have children who would like to take more of an opportunity to use the facility, but cant at the current price.
In addition to providing research that could lead to a sliding scale pay rate, PACT emphasized flexibility in its proposal. We basically just laid it out for them and asked them if they could offer a portion to subsidize that. How they would go about funding or how they would accept it or not, I think then to leave as much open as possible, White said.
Nugent is optimistic they will reach a compromise regarding the proposal, though she said more research was necessary to continue. I want to get more information in terms of how places do this and would it make sense, she said. If we are going to do such a thing, would it make sense to do a sort of sliding scale according to what your income is and so forth?
Chief Business Officer Mark Kohlman also met with Nugent and members of PACT about the proposal. Its laid out very clearly; theyve done a lot of research, kind of who attends the childcare center and what the costs are, and they recommended a subsidy for staff, he said.
At press time, Nugent had not met with senior staff to discuss the proposal. I think theres still quite a bit of refinement that we probably need to do, she said. I certainly am happy to look at it, because we do want this to be a benefit that is available enough to people.
Affordability and Accessibility
PACTs proposal reflects a prevalent concern among faculty, staff and administrators about childcare at Kenyon.
Assistant Professor of English Jen Schoenfeld, who has a child enrolled at the Center, is currently pregnant and plans to send a second child to the Center in the fall. Schoenfeld, however, worries about being able to afford enrolling two children. Cost is a little bit of a concern. Its factored into the spacing of our children, frankly, she said. Knowing that [my daughter] will only have to be part-time. The idea of having two kids at the center full-time was a concern. It is pricey.
Prices for full-time care at the Center are $220 per week for infant care, $194 for toddlers, $160 for preschoolers and $45 for after-school care. Most Kenyon employees, however, pay a discounted price, implemented by the Center in response to negative reactions when rates were first published in 2007, according toTazewell. With this 4 percent discount, employees pay $211 per week for infants, $186 for toddlers, $154 for preschool and $40 for after-school care.
In comparison, the New Hope Early Education Center in Mount Vernon, also an affiliate of Head Start, charges $130-$150 per week for full-time child care for private families.
Up to this year, rates have not risen for the Center, even though staff salaries have increased since the Center opened, according to Tazewell.
Although the discount for staff was meant to narrow the price gap, some employees feel it does not reflect the realities of cost for childcare in relation to salary.
For one administrator, who asked to remain anonymous because of the sensitive and financial nature of the topic, the discount was simply not enough.
I remember being excited when I heard Kenyon was opening a childcare center and that employees would receive a discount, the administrator said. However, when I saw the discount, I was deeply disappointed because the discount wasnt much and the overall cost was very high. The high cost prevented me from using the Center for my two children.
The high costs of the Center can be attributed to a variety of factors, but most stem from the quality and range of services provided.
This facility is more expensive because quality childcare is more expensive, said Tazewell. The rates in this facility are the rates you need to pay at bare minimum to provide quality for young children in classrooms. …They could do it differently. They could chose to have teachers who were paid minimum wage, got no benefits, got no sick time, no vacation time, and it would be cheaper. I would not operate that facility. … I believe that the people who care for our children deserve to have health insurance and vacation.
Professors of Anthropology Bruce Hardy and Kimmarie Murphy, who send their daughter to the Center, agree. The pricing is not unfair. The pricing is fair for what is being provided. Child care workers should be paid more anyway, even with what we are paying them, they should be paid more than they are getting paid by far, Hardy said.
Chris Ellsworth, technical director for the department of dance, drama and film, also believes child care workers deserve pay comparable to the care they provide. I think that the person looking after my child should get paid a lot more than what we pay them, he said. I wish I could pay more. Its just that I dont have that ability. If I could pay more, I would pay more, but you have to make it to pay it.
Ellsworth sends his infant daughter to the Center. We cant say enough good things about it. She loves to go there, he said. Were really lucky that we have it here, but I do wish that it was somehow more accessible.
In comparison to New Hope, the certification [for teachers] is the same, said Tazewell. The primary difference is that in the Head Start classrooms in the New Hope facility, almost 100 percent of children are funded through the federal Head Start or federal Early Head Start Program.
In contrast, the Gambier Child Care Center only includes six infants and toddlers who are funded through Head Start and receive federal funding through the program, according to Tazewell.
For some faculty and staff members, cost is a higher factor in choosing a childcare facility.
Helpline Manager Brandon Warga is currently surveying options for his seven-week-old infant. We would love to be able to take advantage of a high-quality day care facility, he said.
Given the current gap between what the all day rate for newborns is at the day care center, its something that you have to think very hard about.
It is expensive. Its also very high quality, said Associate Director of Advancement Information Services Sonia Corrigan. I think thats the balancing act. I would love it to be more affordable so that more people could take advantage of it, but whats most important to me is that quality [stays] high.
Corrigan has two children at the Center and sent her first child to the Center its opening year. When they sent out the proposal for the Center, we were fairly certain that we wanted our kids to go there if we could do it, said Corrigan.
Quality Over Cost
The Center was built in response to faculty concerns over a lack of adequate childcare near the campus. Beginning in the fall of 2005, the Faculty Affairs Committee (FAC) met to discuss various childcare options. When we were setting our agenda for what we wanted to do, there were four of us on the committee who had young children, and we all kind of simultaneously said childcare. And so it became a priority for the committee, said Hardy, who served on FAC in 2005.
After demonstrating to the administration the need for a childcare center, the committee formed a subcommittee, headed by Professor of Psychology and former Associate Provost Sarah Murnen, to work alongside senior staff for accepting bids from various child care providers.
We had five groups submit proposals, and there were two groups that had goals consistent with the goals set forth by [FAC] and the childcare committee that formed one was a national chain and the other was Head Start. The national chain was going to be much more expensive than we thought people would want, whereas Head Start had a great philosophy, more knowledge of the local community and was more affordable, Murnen said in an email.
The administration ultimately chose Head Start and provided one million dollars to build the facility.
Almost immediately, however, the question of cost and affordability arose. When we started talking about cost we had great concern and a lot of feedback from employees of Kenyon, Quinlivan said. The rates were perceived to be too expensive for many employees to afford.
The College asked FAC to provide the best possible facility of high quality childcare, said Hardy. We looked at what would be the highest quality you could possibly get, which involved great teachers and that sort of thing, and we were under the impression that we were probably going to price all of this stuff out and kind of look at it, but that process never really occurred, to my knowledge, he said. So we went forward with what is really high quality, but it comes at a higher price. To my knowledge, that has not been revisited since the center opened. I think it does need to be revisited.
Several employees agreed the College needed to address affordability before choosing a bid. Part of creating [a] product is finding out who your market is and finding out what theyre able to pay, and I felt that not enough information had been gathered about what a suitable price point was, said Associate Professor of Humanities Katherine Elkins, who met with Tazewell and Nugent during the initial conversations on child care.
Nonetheless, employees say they are grateful the Center exists. I think its really important in this to emphasize that none of us are dissatisfied with the fact that its here I mean, we are really happy that its there. In fact, we are very happy that Kenyon has done this for us. But its not accessible to most staff, Associate Professor of Spanish Katherine Hedeen said.
As the conversation on childcare accessibility for employees continues, faculty and staff members remain optimistic that the College will take their concerns seriously.
Im not bitter, Im not upset, Im just passionate about it, Quinlivan said. I want to work with Kenyon in a positive way, that maybe together we can find a solution and make this a benefit that employees can use.
This article has been edited since the print edition on May 3, 2012.The original version of this story incorrectly stated the rates at the Gambier Child Care Center would increase because staff members there are receiving a 5 percent raise this year. They are receiving a 0.72 percent raise.The graphic, originally depicting faculty vs staff families who use the Gambier Child Care Center, was removed due to unclear data representation. The Collegian regrets the errors.