Southeastern to close highly rated childcare center
June 20 2001 by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor

Southeastern to close highly rated childcare center | Wednesday, June 20, 2001

Wednesday, June 20, 2001

Southeastern to close highly rated childcare center

By Tony W. Cartledge BR Editor Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary has announced plans to close the Ruby Reid Child Development Center, citing as one of the reasons "ideological problems" with the school sponsoring a childcare center.

The center, which has served both seminary students and community families for decades, is one of a select few to have a "four star" rating. It was designed to serve as a learning laboratory for the seminary while also providing quality care for children two to five years old, according to Beth McLeod, who directed the program from 1965-85.

In separate letters to student parents, community parents and to the center's 21 employees, seminary president Paige Patterson related a variety of reasons for the closure. He told parents from the community that the children had been "an infinite spring of happiness," but that childcare was not seminary's focus, and he was concerned about the seminary's liability exposure.

To student parents, Patterson said the seminary could no longer afford the liability or the operating cost of keeping the center open. Raising tuition fees to a break-even level would make it impossible for students to afford the service, Patterson said.

Patterson also told students that seminary officials had "ideological problems" with seminary sponsorship of a childcare center.

"Recent discoveries regarding children reared in childcare centers have only escalated our convictions that the child that is most likely to have a happy and useful life is a child reared in the home with the parents, not in a childcare center," he said.

The center currently has 60 pre-schoolers enrolled for the summer program, with 86 children pre-registered for the fall semester, according to director Tina Dekle.

Dekle has been director for seven of the 12 years she has worked at the center. Only 20 percent of the summer participants are children of seminary students, she said, but about half of those planning to attend in the fall are from student families.

Some parents and others in the Wake Forest community reacted with dismay. Christie Pleasant of Youngsville told the Biblical Recorder that her daughter Katie has been in three other day care centers, but none offered the level of care she received at Ruby Reid. "Katie is happy and learning and has a place where students pray at lunchtime," Pleasant said. "Those traits mean a lot to a parent."

In response to Patterson's belief that children should be raised in the home, Pleasant said, "If this were a perfect world, we would all stay at home." Citing financial pressure and the need many families feel for both parents to work, she added, "It's not a perfect world."

Former director McLeod expressed similar sentiments in a letter to the Wake Weekly. "I retired with a sense of satisfaction that every day we had sought to teach God's love from greeting each child in the morning until we said goodbye in the afternoon," she said. McCleod's letter noted the number of "graduates" of Ruby Reid Center who are now serving as productive adults in both ministerial and lay professions. "It is unrealistic to think that all of the mothers of children presently enrolled at Ruby Reid will be able to stay home with their children," she said.

A group of parents, including some seminary students, met June 19 to discuss options for keeping the center open as an independent entity. They decided to write seminary trustees, asking to use the current facility for another year while they seek an alternate location.

Although Patterson's letter said the center would close prior to the fall semester, Dekle said he has offered to allow rent-free use of the campus facility through December provided organizers agree to pay utilities and operate independently of the seminary.

Dekle hopes individuals or churches will step forward to volunteer space or funding for a new facility. "We believe very strongly in the ministry being done here," she said. "We hope to continue offering a full-time Christian-based center."

The closing comes on the heels of similar actions at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. and Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo.

Southern Seminary officials announced in April 2000 that the campus childcare program would close at the end of July. After a public outcry, seminary president Al Mohler pledged to keep the center open at least one more year while seminary leaders studied long-term options to meet the seminary's child care needs.

Mohler had cited financial issues for the closing, including annual operating deficits and the need for a $1 million renovation of the center, which formerly housed the seminary's school of church music. Mohler denied claims that the decision was based on a belief that mothers should stay home with their children, telling Kentucky's Western Recorder "We are not philosophically opposed" to providing child care on campus.

The center remains open, with its future status still uncertain.

Midwestern's childcare center has been closed and reopened twice since 1995. Interim president Michael Whitehead reopened the center in August 2000, but new seminary president Phil Roberts decided in April to close the facility, and the seminary's board of trustees voted 17-9 at their April 23-24 meeting to cease operations on June 15, according to a Baptist Press report.

However, a May 23 article in the Kansas City Star said seminary officials were considering keeping the campus center open by negotiating with an outside operator to run it.

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6/20/2001 12:00:00 AM by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor | with 0 comments
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