Southeastern to shut down childcare center
June 22 2001 by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor

Southeastern to shut down childcare center | Friday, June 22, 2001

Friday, June 22, 2001

Southeastern to shut down childcare center

By Tony W. Cartledge BR Editor WAKE FOREST - 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.

That is no longer seen as the center's function.

Seminary president Paige Patterson told Baptist Press that the center doesn't fit into the school's "Statement of Institutional Purpose." He said the seminary officials are currently reviewing the school to be sure it is "in compliance with accepted standards of higher education accreditation."

"Through this review we realized that providing daycare is not really a part of our mission, especially when the vast majority of our clients are from the community and not students," he said. "We have no program for early childhood education, and the center serves no educational purpose."

Tina Dekle, who has been director of the center for seven of the 12 years she has worked there, said that about 20 percent of the 60 pre-schoolers enrolled in the center's summer program are children of seminary students, but about half of the 86 children who are registered for the fall program have parents in seminary.

In separate letters to student parents, community parents and the center's 21 employees, 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 the 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.

Baptist Press reported that the center has lost $332,000 over the past five years.

"When we added it up, we determined that the seminary was spending $4,000 of Cooperative Program funds per year per student child to provide daycare," 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.

Patterson told Baptist Press that the students embrace those views.

"However, our position on child rearing did not close the center," he said. "Had that been the case, we would have closed it nine years ago when I became president."

In his letter to the students, Patterson said that some may disagree with the decision.

"I hope that in your decisions about what to say or not to say about it you will keep in mind the critical nature of our public witness for Christ, and also that you will respect the necessity of the adminstration to make the best conceivable decision for the sake of the institution as a whole," he said.

Cheryl Robbins, whose son, Noah, 4, has attended the center for more than two years, told the Wake Weekly newspaper that Patterson was unamused by media attention to the center's closing.

Robbins, who is not a student, said that Patterson told her that "using the press to pressure me to do what you want does not work with me. It hasn't for 20 years, does not today and will not tomorrow. She said Patterson told her that because she had gone to the press he had "hardened his decision not to give the parents a hearing."

Other parents and people in the 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, noting 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 part of the utilities and begin to incorporate separately from the seminary.

Dekle hopes individuals or churches will 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."

Seminary officials said the building will likely be used for a healthcare center and computer labs.

The closing comes on the heels of related 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, citing financial woes. After a public outcry, seminary president Al Mohler pledged to keep the center open at least one more year while the school studied long-term options to meet the seminary's child care needs.

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.

After completing the study, seminary officials decided to upgrade the facility and keep it open, according to Lawrence Smith, vice-president for public relations. Smith told the Kentucky Western Recorder the center will be open "for the foreseeable future" and that $100,000 has been invested in the facility's playground, fencing and security features.

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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6/22/2001 12:00:00 AM by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor | with 0 comments
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