Students at Southern Oregon University have two more days to decide the fate of some 30 preschool children and their parents. A referendum to keep the Schneider Children’s Center open is on the ballot and asks if students are willing to pay 13 dollars to keep the center open. The vote ends on May 8th, “The Schneider Children’s Center has been one of the most important elements of my career as an SOU student and a member of this community. For the past three years, the Center has provided the most compassionate, loving care, not just to my son (who’s now five), but also to me” says Shey Yearsley, a mother who has had her child enrolled in the pre-school.
The Schneider Children’s Center (SCC) has been operating for 28 years serving primarily the families of SOU. There are currently more than 10 full time staff and some 55 families served by the pre-school. It opened with a large grant from the Schneider family believing the center would eventually become self-sustaining. However, the pre-school runs at a deficit despite the fees it charges per pupil for attending pre-school which are average for the area. Part of the reason for the this is a refusal to cut corners by reducing staff, cutting food and enrichment programs or services offered to children and families.
The Student Incidental Fees picked up much of the Center’s budget; eventually covering over 60% according to an Associated Students of Southern Oregon University (ASSOU) town hall meeting on April 28th.
The Associated Students eventually voted to stop supporting the pre-school with student fees which lead to the inevitable. In a recent letter to SCC Families, from Southern Oregon University President, Dr. Roy Saigo, “SCC will be closing its doors on Friday, June 12.” The president’s letter continued saying ASSOU, “previously provided funding for the center, but ASSOU leadership voted during the 2013–2014 Academic year to eliminate that funding going forward. Instead, ASSOU chose to subsidize students’ childcare cost directly.”
Kathy Spain, Schneider Children’s Center director, said during the, “last 25 years since we’ve been here, we’ve been funded by student fees. A few years back, we were getting like 380K per year from student fees.” Yet not long after that, “the next year when they began talking about building the dorms, expanding the rec center and doing that kind of stuff with the athletics;” the SCC went in with their same budget and ASSOU said no. Causing the SCC “to scramble in order to ask for special permission to submit a new budget.” The modified financial plan was granted by student government, yet was “about half of what we usually get…maybe it was about 194K.”
Kathy, with a master’s degree, 17 years as a SCC head-teacher and with a $15 per hour wage would express a “weirdness” always knowing the Center’s need to ask “student’s for money. One year there was someone on the student senate who said…well, can’t you just put them (the children) in a room with a ball? Which she stated was “their idea of early childhood education.”
When parents, families and supporters of children being educated and cared for at The Children’s Center services, attended a recent April Student Senate meeting, they voiced concerns over the Schneider’s closure, and, discovered: many in the present ASSOU government hadn’t known the SCC had been defunded and slated for termination at the end of this academic school year.
Julia Heinlein, SOU’s Speaker of the Senate, and, Heather Buchanan who is the Humanities and Cultural Senator heard about it and tried to stop the closure. These members of the student government spearheaded a referendum that gained the Schneider Children’s Center the following position on the current ballot, being voted on May 4th-8th: “Should student fees restore funding to the Schneider Children’s Center at $13.00 per student per term effective academic year 2016-2017?”2
Support for keeping The Children’s Center open also came today from SOU Professor of Economics, Ric Holt. Professor Holt sent an email to his colleagues, “All Faculty,” that pointed to a New York Times article (3,4) that states research by Harvard economist, Raj Chetty and Nathaniel Hendren. Ric says this piece, “reaffirms empirically what I have been saying for years now and why all of us should be concerned with expanding and not closing the Schneider’s Preschool Program.”
The New York Times article, The Best and Worst Places to Grow Up: How Your Area Compares2, considers Jackson County, Oregon, “below average in helping poor children up the income ladder. It ranks 584th out of 2,478 counties.” Also, the message emphasizes the longer timeframe a person spends, during developmental stages, within a disadvantaged situation, the less likelihood they have of climbing the economic ladder. The data presents a 10% probability for a Jackson County 20 something year old to elevate above the poverty state they were raised in.
This information is echoed in the statements of Yearsley about what she’s witnessed as a mother at SCC, “The Schneider Children’s Center offers so much to this community. It is impossible to quantify how deeply our time with the Center has impacted my life and my sons, or how that ripples out to affect the community.” She continues, ” The commitment I have seen amongst SCC parents to their academic pursuits and their careers has been unparalleled by any other students I’ve encountered at SOU.” Yearsley is also concerned about the message closing the preschool will send about ethnic diversity in the community, ” The SCC is one of the only places in town where my son (who is half African) can experience racial diversity that actually mimics the world we live in. If the Center were to close, SOU would be sending a very clear message to the world: “we don’t care about bringing diversity into our town; we don’t care about supporting non-traditional students”
Doing the math, The Schneider isn’t a financial success. Southern Oregon University is well known to be in the red, and the students are most recently working out of a million dollar deficit. The question is, will today’s SOU students invest in the early childhood development of the future University students?
Will the Children’s Center close after this summer? Will ASSOU examine economist Ric Holts’ ideas with “some new policy changes we can do to improve the standard of living within our community?” The future will tell.
The vote ends in two days.
1. Mark Denney, Associate Vice President for Budget and Planning (SOU).
2. See email: To, [All Students] ASSOU Elections 2015 & [All Students] Candidate Bios and Referendum for 2015 Elections. From, ASSOU firstname.lastname@example.org (sent: 05/04/2015).