Parents riled by U day care's pending closure vent to administration

Parents and children outside of the U's Child Development Center Thursday.
Parents and children outside of the University of Minnesota's Child Development Center Thursday night. Parents attended a meeting where they criticized the U's plans to close the center 18 months from now.
Peter Cox | MPR News

Parents furious after the University of Minnesota announced it will be closing a school-run child care facility packed a meeting with the dean behind the decision Thursday afternoon. They also hoped to persuade the U to continue a day care on campus.

Letters notified parents the University's Child Development Center will close in 18 months. The U plans to move a laboratory school from the main campus into the space occupied by the day care.

Nearly 100 parents jammed into a small room in the center criticized the way the decision was made and what they see as a lack of transparency.

"This is a democratic country and a public research university and faculty and staff should have the chance to voice their opinion, and this is very top down," said Mandy Bai, an administrator at the Carlson School of Management with two young children enrolled at the center.

The Child Development Center serves about 140 children and costs between $445 and $750 per child every two weeks, depending on the child's age and the family income. And around 200 children are on the waiting list.

The Child Development Center stands out for its longevity — more than four decades — and its reputation.

Kersten Warren is a research administrator at the College of Veterinary Medicine. The youngest of her three children will age out of the center later this year.

"I think my kids have gone off to their schools and are so well prepared because of the staff here and the curriculum and the university's commitment to the programming," Warren said.

Jean Quam, the dean of the College of Education and Human Development, says the decision to close the center was based partly on financial pressures.

"The message we've received from the Board of Regents and the Legislature is that you need to stop doing some of these things that aren't squarely within [the] mission, so that's where some of the direction is coming for this decision," Quam said.

There is also an issue of space. The college, which operates the Child Development Center, is remodeling the building that houses the Shirley Moore Laboratory School, and needs to find a new, larger home for it.

"We felt that the child development center would be an alternative location that would work and could be remodeled fairly easily," Quam said.

The laboratory school has students, but it's much more research-focused.

Parents asked whether the current child care center could live on in some way. Warren says the center is important for supporting women at the U.

"I think it's a huge thing to know that they can have their research careers and know that their kids are in good care," Warren said. "So that's where I'm hopeful it will expand, it can retain its current staff, find a way as a group to work together and make this an even bigger part of the university community."

Quam didn't fully rule out possibly making a way for the lab school and center to work together, but said she does not want to give parents any false hope.