by Matt Benoit
There were hugs and tears outside of the Laidlaw 143 boardroom Wednesday afternoon following the Whatcom Community College Board of Trustees meeting, as the comments of those hoping to save Whatcom’s Child Development Center from its June 18 closure did little to change the college’s decision.
“They just handled this so poorly,” said Sean Donoghue-Neider, a Whatcom student and assistant teacher at the center, after the meeting. He thinks the college sees the CDC as an expendable service rather than a core program, and insisted that a financial restructuring—not a closure—was needed.
More than 20 people packed into a relatively small space to be present at the April 14 meeting, and those who wished to address the Board of Trustees were given a 30-minute public comment session to do so. Each person received three minutes to express their thoughts, and most pleaded for a re-consideration of the decision.
“There are many, many stones left unturned,” said Vicki Hubner, a former director of the CDC. Hubner worried about the restrictions to accessibility the closure would have on students, explaining to the board that community colleges such as Whatcom have “always been about access.” The reason some students—including many of those involved with the CDC—attend them is because they cannot afford to go to four-year institutions, she said.
Donoghue-Neider told the board in an emotional voice that he was “devastated” by news of the closure, and was willing to give his own paycheck to keep the facility open. “I would sign it over to the center, gladly,” he said. “It’s too important to let it slip through the cracks. Those kids deserve a chance to succeed.”
Jean McMahon, the lead pre-school teacher at the CDC, spoke of having thousands of stories from people whose lives were touched by the center. “This is a community,” she said. “This is a quality place.”
McMahon said that many people have come to her with ideas for keeping the center open, and explained that the facility has a core group of dedicated staff, many of whom are also taking classes at Whatcom. One parent in attendance said her husband, a lean engineer, would be willing to offer financial planning for as many hours as possible in order to help the college.
Many of the same people who attended the informational meeting the evening before also attended the board meeting.
MaryAnn Baker, a former Whatcom student, told the board about the positive impact the CDC had on her grandson, who had seen his father beat his mother and entered the CDC with behavioral problems. Baker said that if facilities like the CDC were shut down, the state should be able to open more prisons to deal with the children who will fail to grow up with the proper behavioral guidance as a result.
“There’s very few accredited centers in this area,” said Marilyn Chu, who was co-director of the CDC from 1996 to 1997, and is now as assistant professor of Early Childhood Education at Western. She scolded the board if they would choose not to reconsider. “Shame on you if you do that,” she said.
“It’s hard to see it close,” said one woman, choking back tears and sniffling. She has worked at the CDC as a part-time/hourly employee for over 20 years.
Sue Cole, the board chair, told those in attendance that the Board of Trustees would not respond to any of the comments made during the meeting, but would be responding to any letters it received through April 19.
At the end of meeting, Whatcom president Kathi Hiyane-Brown said simply that the decision to close the CDC would stand, because the model the facility is being run on “is not sustainable at this time.” Shortly afterward, a small line of sad people, some wiping away moisture from their eyes, solemnly left the room.