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Preschool closure sends parents scrambling

This story has been edited for clarity on dates of occurrence.

Sage Connolly found out his son Cyrus’ preschool would be closing through a text message from another parent last Friday night.

“I was like, ‘Are you kidding me?’” Sage Connolly said. Cyrus’ grandmother had picked him up from Schneider Children’s Center a few hours earlier.

The next day, Debbie Gary, director of the center formerly run by Southern Oregon University, called the Connollys and all other families of the approximately 60 children enrolled at the Schneider Center. She confirmed: Aug. 24 would be the last day they would be able to take their children there for child care.

“Over the weekend, it was pretty nerve-racking,” Sage Connolly said, as he and his wife researched other options for Cyrus, who will be 4 years old soon. Both parents work full-time.

A personal contact helped get their son into a day care in Phoenix. Other families are still searching in what they say is a crowded market with few options for lower-income households.

Although the story of Schneider Center’s financial troubles has unfolded over years, the abruptness of its closure notice left some families feeling frustrated and scrambling to find another place for their children. They said they should have been given more notice in months leading up to the start of the school year that the center might close.

But Southern Oregon University, which managed the Schneider Center from its inception until this past spring, said that Gary and the Oregon Child Development Coalition — which planned to take over management of the center this year — knew only days (corrected) earlier than parents that the center was no longer financially viable.

The university distanced itself from the center at the end of last school year, saying it would relinquish its role in operation effective Aug. 31 (edited for clarity). Schneider had operated at a net loss for several years.

Ryan Hawk, who has two children enrolled at Schneider, said he and his wife have not yet found another place for them to go.

“Families can’t just figure out in two weeks where to put their kids,” he said.

Hawk said during a meeting with parents held over the summer that someone had asked both Gary and Karen Ayers from Oregon Child Development Coalition whether the center would be open to provide care in September.

“The answer was, ‘Oh, sure,’” he said. “If we had any inkling, we could have put out names on lists for other opportunities.”

Gary directed all questions to SOU spokesman Joe Mosley, who said that the claim that Gary assured parents the center would be open was “too strong a wording, I think.”

“Following that (meeting), occasionally parents would ask our director if she had heard anything, and she would tell them, no she hadn’t heard anything other than what she heard on June 29, which was that the transition was moving forward,” Mosley said. “And really there was no reason for anyone to suspect otherwise.”

Mosley said that OCDC had been counting on some form of federal funding to keep the center open and discovered last week (edited for clarity) that funding had fallen through. He declined to offer more specifics, saying instead that the process is complicated.

Two phone calls to OCDC were not returned Tuesday.

Hawk and Sage Connolly both said they were sorry to see the Schneider Center close, that their children had good experiences there and made friends.

“They really do phenomenal stuff,” Sage Connolly said. “They look after the kids very well.”

Hawk said he doesn’t like rushing to secure a spot at the other pre-kindergarten and early education centers in the Ashland area and worries about families who might be squeezed out.

“You feel this slight competitiveness with the other parents, that we’ve got to get a spot for our kids,” he said, “and that’s an awful place to be in.”

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Kaylee Tornay at ktornay@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4497. Follow her on Twitter @ka_tornay.

Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneChildren play inside the Schneider Children's Center in Ashland. Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune