Administrators stunned Spokane Community College students Wednesday by handing over control of the campus day-care center to a federally funded program.
Bill Whitehall, executive vice president of the Associated Student Council, said students are angry that SCC President Jim Williams abruptly ousted the private operators of Bigfoot Day Care Center in favor of Head Start.
Head Start is a federally subsidized program that is managed in Spokane County by the Institute for Extended Learning (IEL), a division of the Community Colleges of Spokane District 17. SCC also is a division of CCS.
“This is going to hit the fan, to say the least,” Whitehall said. “This is a student-run day care, and we were kicked out of the decision process altogether.”
Bigfoot, which offered care for preschoolers and kindergartners, was the lowest-priced day-care center in Spokane County, state officials have said. It was housed in buildings worth $1 million and had playground equipment largely paid for by student fees and revenues.
In a letter to the student council, Williams said that Head Start - a program created during the War on Poverty in the 1960s - would provide better services to students. It will take over June 18, the day after spring quarter ends.
Williams was interviewing for another job in California and could not be reached for comment.
Pam Praeger, an IEL dean in charge of Head Start, said a federal grant to serve more than 100 children was received last year. A plan to open the program at the YWCA fell through and Head Start needed to find an alternative site. Praeger could not recall the size of the grant.
“When you compare services, Head Start offers a lot of services that can help the entire family so parents can stay in school,” she said.
Head Start, a 33-year-old program designed to give poor children a jump on school and success in life, operates eight centers in Spokane County that serve 675 children.
Williams’ decision flew in the face of a student council vote last year to block Head Start from taking over Bigfoot. The council rebuffed a second Head Start offer in January.
But on March 10, Head Start officials took their proposal directly to Williams and a day-care task force he had appointed. Williams signed the deal with Head Start three days later.
Student parents at SCC had worried that Head Start would turn away their children because the families earned too much money to qualify for the low-income program.
Praeger could not guarantee that every child would be accepted, but said that Head Start permits up to 10 percent of the children to come from families that don’t meet poverty measures.
Student parents who do qualify will save money, because Head Start does not charge for its services. Taxpayers spend $3 million to $4 million annually to subsidize the program in Spokane County, Praeger said.
Paul Lewis, an accounting professor at SCC, founded Bigfoot 23 years ago and has held the contract to operate the center ever since.
“I’m a little upset,” Lewis said. “Head Start is a good program, but ours serves SCC students better.”
Head Start will take over Bigfoot just weeks after it opened a new wing and doubled in size to serve up to 150 children. Manager Connie Thomas said she employs 10 people and expects 125 children to enroll spring quarter.
Because Bigfoot’s building is owned by SCC, the day-care center can afford to charge as little as $1.50 per hour per child.
“This was our day care,” Whitehall said, “and if we have to, there’s going to be a student protest.”
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