Citing decreasing enrollment numbers, the College of DuPage is set to close its Early Childhood Center on June 1.
The majority of COD trustees on Dec. 14 voted to eliminate the positions of the center's staff members, who will receive severance pay. Trustee Alan Bennett, who voted against the terminations, wanted to table voting on the terminations.
"I think we need to rework our communication effort and have more of a deliberative consultation with the impacted parents that have children attending this center at this point in time," Bennett said.
Trustee Daniel Markwell also voted no, along with student trustee Anthony Walker. Voting yes were Board of Trustees Chairwoman Deanne Mazzochi, Vice Chairman Frank Napolitano, Secretary Christine Fenne and trustee Charles Bernstein. Trustee Joseph Wozniak was absent from the meeting.
The Early Childhood Center's enrollment has continued to decline as operational costs have increased, according to a news release from the college. The center, which has been open since 1976, currently has an enrollment of 76 full- and part-time children and 20 staff. The center's capacity is 120 children, and enrollment has decreased 28 percent from 2010, the release stated.
Since fiscal year 2011, the center has lost more than $1.5 million, college officials said. That includes tuition revenue minus the center's direct expenses but does not include rent, utilities, janitorial, maintenance and other expenses, officials said. The college's subsidy of the center has increased by more than 311 percent since fiscal year 2011.
The center's closing will not affect COD's Early Childhood Education and Care academic program, which has partnerships with daycare centers in the community, officials said.
During the Dec. 14 meeting, parents of children attending the center voiced frustration about the center's closure, noting the exceptional care they received. They also wondered about the future plans for the building.
"When my husband and I moved to Glen Ellyn, there were many factors we considered when deciding where to buy our home," said Jill Wiles Wolf, choking back tears as she addressed trustees. "One of the deciding factors turned out to be the proximity to the Early Childhood Center. We started hearing people sing its praises as soon as we mentioned that we were looking at houses in Glen Ellyn. Co-workers, friends and even our Realtor told us how fortunate we would be if we lived close to COD and could enroll our daughter in the Early Childhood Center. There's nothing like it, they said, and they were right."
Wolf said she thought the college could do more to promote the Early Childhood Center.
"Many times, I would tell someone that my daughter goes to day care at COD, and I would get a response like, 'I would love to send my kids there, but the wait list is eternal,' or 'That's only for faculty and staff.' I don't think there is good public awareness about the opportunities there. Could it be that ECC's stellar reputation has actually become a hindrance that everybody thinks it is impossible to enroll?"
Children younger than 15 months old are placed on a wait list until they are age eligible, as the center does not serve students younger than 15 months old, officials said. COD officials said they have tried to promote the center in an attempt to grow enrollment, including taking out ads and participating in community recruitment events focusing on early childhood and preschool.
COD faculty member Mia Poston has a child currently enrolled at the Early Childhood Center and a child who graduated from the center. She also lauded the center for its excellence.
"It is a service to the community as well as a service to the COD students who regularly use the center to fulfill required observation hours," Poston said. "COD's day care uses best practices in the field."
Janice Cagle, a COD graduate who retired in August as a Early Childhood Center teacher, also expressed her dismay.
"I saw many, many parents who had so many nice things to say about the teachers," Cagle said. "It's a family there. The teachers are family. The parents are family. And the children are family. There was no warning that this was going to happen... There needs to be more of an explanation why this is happening."