A referendum to resume funding Southern Oregon University’s Schneider Children’s Center for the 2016-17 academic year passed by an overwhelming margin Friday, but whether the center will open its doors next school year — and if so, how — has yet to be determined.
According to the university’s website, 78.1 percent of SOU students voted in favor of funding the SCC in 2016-17, and only 16.99 percent voted against the referendum, which was added to the school’s election ballot after Children’s Center supporters were able to collect enough signatures to represent at least 5 percent of the student body.
What remains to be seen is whether the Children’s Center in the school’s Old Mill Village student-family housing complex off Quincy Street will acquire funding for the 2015-16 school year. Before the referendum, the plan was to close the child care center for the foreseeable future June 12, and SCC director Kathy Spain said Tuesday that the vote, while providing a ray of hope, will not stop that from happening.
“We have a group of parents meeting this week to talk about some grants that we might be able to apply for,” Spain said. “Other than that, I don’t know if it changes anything, unfortunately.”
The referendum came roughly a year after the Associated Students of Southern Oregon University voted to defund the Children’s Center, which provides care for children from 6 weeks to 6 years old – a client base that, according to Spain, currently amounts to 55 children from 48 families.
Previously funded by student fees, the Children’s Center raised its rates when it re-opened in September and for the first time in its 28-year history opened its doors to the general public in an effort to become financially self-sufficient. Students in need of child care, meanwhile, were offered a $400-per-month subsidy to help cover the cost. Even with the changes, the Children’s Center still fell woefully short of breaking even — Mark Denney, SOU’s associate vice president for budget and planning, estimates that it operated at a $150,000 to $170,000 deficit for the year — and was promptly put on the chopping block, a move that was finalized by president Roy Saigo during a university cabinet meeting April 20.
On Monday, Denney and Director of Student Life Jennifer Fountain are scheduled to meet with SOU’s cabinet, which includes Saigo and his primary leadership team. There, Denney and Fountain will “report on what we have to date and get some advice from the cabinet going forward,” Denney said.
The ultimate goal, Denney said, is that they’ll find a way to keep the Children’s Center open for the 2015-16 school year.
“There are some promising ideas,” he said.
One involves working with Oregon Head Start Association, a nonprofit that provides services such as early childhood education, nutrition and family support to families of young children. There’s a Head Start center in Medford, and the Children’s Center could land federal grants if Head Start places an Early Head Start satellite in SCC.
“We’ve been in contact with them and are meeting (today) to see if they could put some seats in Schneider,” Denney said, “which would be additional children that are not (children of) SOU students, but would help fund the Schneider Children’s Center. That’s certainly one promising option that in and of itself would not be a whole solution, but it would be a piece of a solution.”
Denney said several grants have also been identified, but that search is still in its early stages and the university will have to take a closer look to determine if “they really are opportunities or just look like opportunities on the surface but don’t fit what the (Schneider Center) is.”
Spain and about seven parents are meeting today with similar aspirations, to track down as many grants as possible.
But in the meantime, the current staff at the Children’s Center, which numbers 10 full-timers, is busy planning ahead.
“Yeah, I’ve been looking (for another job),” Spain said. “But there’s not a lot of opportunities for my staff to find comparable work for comparable pay.”
Joe Zavala can be reached at 541-821-0829 or email@example.com.