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YSCCC head is reinstated

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After some tense discussion at last week’s special meeting of the Community Children’s Center Board of Trustees, almost half of the members of the board announced their intention to resign. According to board Vice-President Amanda Turner-Cole, her decision was prompted by the parent veto of a plan the eight-member board had created several months earlier to establish a new leadership structure and search for a new executive director for the center.

“I don’t believe we will be able to successfully move forward” without the board’s plan, she stated during the meeting.

According to Children’s Center Board President Callie Cary-Devine this week, while she and Turner have decided to remain seated until an undetermined transition to a new board can be made, both she and Turner intend to vacate their volunteer positions. The board members who resigned last week are Secretary Kim Miller, Leslee Creighton, Todd Kreeger, Brady Burkett, Josh Zinger and Tracy Knopp. Those who resigned or intend to resign include the eight members of the original board of trustees.

The board grew significantly two weeks ago when a meeting of the Children’s Center Corporation — the group including all current parents and staff members that oversees the trustees — was called in response to news that on Aug. 18 the board had fired Children’s Center Executive Director Marlin Newell. The Corporation immediately voted to reinstate Newell as director, and last week voted in seven new trustees: Ryan Hart, Otto Anderson, Danielle Fodal-McCray, Sarah Siff, Amber Botkin, Patrick Brown and Pat White.

All 15 members of the board, as well as 15 Corporation members, were present at last Wednesday’s board meeting. The eight original trustees spent the time explaining the dire financial situation the Children’s Center is currently in and fielded questions from current and former parents, many of whom were hearing the financial news for the first time.

According to Secretary Kim Miller, who spoke as treasurer at the meeting, as of this month, the Children’s Center has $95,000 in total liquid assets — enough to survive for the next nine months. With its cash reserves depleted and operations running an average deficit of $10,000 per month, the eight trustees urged the Corporaton to accept its five-point plan to make the drastic changes necessary to save the center. The plan included:

1. Ensure that revenues match expenses;

2. Meet with community stakeholders to examine local childcare needs and opportunities for the center to fill them;

3. Ensure that the executive director manages the center’s daily operations and communicates regularly with the board on matters of enrollment, expenses and development opportunities;

4. Search for a new executive director and replace the current director with an interim director (whom the board identified as current teacher Rob Campbell);

5. Schedule an annual retreat for the board, the director and key stakeholders to “lay out a plan for the year”

Several corporation members asked the eight board members to remove the fourth point before taking a vote, saying that forcing out a 25-year veteran teacher and director would dishonor her service and prevent a smooth leadership transition. But the original board insisted that a new executive director was essential, particularly when the budget was so tight that keeping Newell on would necessitate the elimination of someone else’s position.

Board members Turner and Miller also said that the center had been disorganized for many years and had trouble increasing its Step Up to Quality standards (which make it eligible to state and other grants) partly because its administrators lack degrees in education. Board member Brady Burkett joined the board in March and immediately perceived what he called a “leadership vacuum” and a lack of the skill sets necessary to manage a preschool operation.

“The facility itself looks delapidated, and it speaks to the overall state of things,” he said.

According to board member Knopp, the disorganization at the center has led to an unprecedented drop in enrollment and a corresponding reduction in both tuition revenue and federal Title XX subsidies. Enrollment went from an average of 81 students in 2011 to about 34 this month.

“Just from enrollment alone it’s clear that something is failing there with the leadership, and something has to be done about it,” she said in an interview this week.

But new board member Patrick Brown did not believe that replacing Newell would fix the center’s problems.

“I’m here because you’re saying in nine months I’ve gotta look for another daycare for my son,” he said. “But we came here for Marlin — and Marlin and the center go together.”

The motion by the corporation to approve the five-point plan failed by eight votes in favor, 10 votes against, and one abstention.

“I’m sad about the outcome,” outgoing board member Knopp said this week. “I hope the Children’s Center can find the answers that they need.”

The newly formulated board of trustees will meet again on the regular third Wednesday of the month, Sept. 17, at 6 p.m. at Mills Lawn Graham Conference Room.


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