By Matt Benoit
The anger, frustration, and disappointment of those affected by Whatcom Community College’s recent decision to close its Child Development Center at the end of spring quarter was brought to the forefront on Tuesday, April 13, as the college held an informational meeting regarding the closure.
An almost capacity crowd—made up of parents, past and former Whatcom students, staff, faculty, and several former Child Development Center directors—filled the Heiner Center Theater Tuesday afternoon to hear Trish Onion, vice president for educational services, and Ray White, vice president for administrative services, explain the reasoning behind the closure.
“We did not want to make this decision,” Onion said. She explained that a combination of factors led to the decision by the college president’s cabinet, including reductions to the college’s operating budget, and state and federal funding cuts to the center itself totaling $56,000. State rules for salaries and benefits made it even more difficult to curb costs.
The suddenness of the decision, as well as their exclusion in the decision-making process, upset many in attendance.
“This was dropped on us like a bomb,” said one woman, who described herself as a single mother and student. “Why not outreach to the community? Why not discuss it with us first?” The woman drew applause from the crowd when she told Onion, “I represent who you teach.”
She was just one in a long line of people who awaited their turn at the microphone to share their views and ask questions. Many expressed gratitude for the excellent care the center had provided over the years, while others expressed dismay with the college’s decision and its timing.
“I’m very sad and disappointed,” said another woman, who works at the Child Development Center and has a 2-year-old child who attends the facility.
Vicki Hubner, who directed the Child Development Center from 1988 to 1996, spoke emotionally, holding back tears as she stepped to the microphone.
“This center doesn’t belong to the current administration,” she said, “it belongs to the community.”
Barb Snow, who founded the center in the early 1970s, also spoke, admonishing the college for the decision but also suggesting that good ideas could result if the college gave the community an opportunity to come up with alternative strategies.
Onion said in the budget review that several alternatives to keep the center open, including reducing its full-time enrollment capacity, were considered but ultimately rejected. When asked whether the facility would stay open if funding was to be secured, Onion replied “no,” to which a gasp was heard from several people.
Whatcom faculty members Jennifer Bullis and John Gonzalez, who both have children in the center, urged the college to reconsider. Gonzalez said that if the center were closed, it would be a symbol of pain and regret.
Sean Donoghue-Neider, an assistant teacher at the center, encouraged people to attend Wednesday’s Board of Trustees meeting and let their voices be heard.
Onion told the audience she would convey their concerns to the cabinet, but did not promise that the decision would be reviewed. “I don’t want to give false hope,” she said.
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