To attract and retain Job & Family Services employees, Portage County commissioners are considering creating a county-run daycare center that would be more affordable than current options.
“Some of our employees are spending $2,500 a month on daycare,” County Administrator Michelle Crombie said. “That is craziness. At some point, they have to make that decision: Should I just stay home?”
JFS Director Kellijo Jeffries proposed the Portage County Children’s Services Annex Building in Ravenna as a potential site for a county daycare, noting it is now vacant except for supervised visitation.
Donations from a church in Windham, where a daycare folded up and left everything behind, would offset start-up costs, Jeffries said. Items include cots, chairs, tables, coat racks, bulletin boards and other supplies, she said. The county would need to provide other items, such as cribs and high chairs, and grant funding could provide money to build a playground.
Preliminary number crunching revealed at least 63 children of JFS employees would now be eligible.
The daycare would operate from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays and offer full-time care as well as after-school programming. It would accept children aged 6 weeks to 11 years old and would ideally be self-sustaining, Jeffries said. She anticipates charging $150 a week for infants, $125 a week for toddlers and $100 a week for preschoolers.
Compare that with prices posted online by three area daycare centers, which Jeffries said charge from $205 to $215 a week for infants.
Discounts for parents with multiple children would likely depend on the level of interest, Jeffries said. Enrollment would only be open to children of parents or guardians who are JFS employees.
Jeffries told the commissioners she is confident the proposed center would meet state requirements, even for meals. She anticipates needing $150,000 in anticipated start-up costs, plus additional funds to pay a site manager and employees, before revenue would start flowing in.
The manager and employees would likely be union positions, she said, and the facility could be licensed two to three months after formal application to the state is made.
Commissioners gave her the green light to gauge actual interest.
A top question for JFS employees would be: “If we open the center, would you transfer your children to the Portage County center?” Jeffries said.
Actual enrollment fees would depend on employees’ answers.
“It might not be financially feasible for us to do it. It might not be worth it. Parents have choices, and they might not want to leave their centers,” she said.
If they would, it would be a “wonderful perk,” Jeffries said.
With Commissioner Tony Badalamenti noting that parents are paying daycare fees of $2,400 a month for three children, Crombie said it “would be worth it to drive a little extra to get the significant savings.”
“I think this is a great idea. Obviously, we have to explore things further to see if it’s doable. It’s a great benefit,” Commissioner Sabrina Christian-Bennett said.
Wendy DiAlesandro is a former Record Publishing Co. reporter and contributing writer for The Portager.