During what was planned to be a low-key meeting at the Peninsula School District May 10, the board of directors received emotional comments from teachers, moms and past students who were dismayed to hear the Cottesmore Child Development Center in Henderson Bay High School was closing.
“I am here speaking from the heart,” Julie Bruey, an English teacher at Peninsula High School, told the board. While at the podium, she held her daughter, who is one of three children she has sent to the Cottesmore center.
“I’m coming to speak about the closure …. Me and five other teachers from Peninsula High School have children that go there. There are teachers from Gig Harbor High School, Minter Creek and more that have children there. It’s a community. I rely on the center.”
Bruey told the board she was worried about the 39 children whose families use the center. Those families were given a three-month notice sent May 7 from school district Superintendent Rob Manahan about the center’s closure on Aug. 10.
“I have called other day cares, and they are reluctant to put my name on their waitlists,” Bruey said, tearing up. “There is a yearlong waiting period to have my child placed in their centers. It’s hard to describe in three minutes, but I think you can tell from my emotion in my voice how passionate I am about the Cottesmore branch. I am asking you seek another solution. How can I help as a teacher? Help us find a solution for teachers.”
Manahan acknowledged the district is struggling to find space to house students and programs in the letter.
“We have also seen continued growth in the district’s developmental preschool program. With these issues in mind, the district has determined that the space currently being used by Cottesmore will need to be utilized for district programs for the 2018-19 school year.”
Manahan said after hearing comments from parents, the school district is looking at working with Cottesmore to find a solution for parents or possibly extending the closing date to help parents who are stuck on waitlists.
"We have students we are not able to serve because of lack of space. Those are our preschool kids and our developmentally-delayed preschool kids we are obligated to serve," Manahan said. "Also we had a five-year lease with Cottesmore and that five-year lease is over. After hearing from families and getting more input, we are re-examining that. So we are looking how to serve our kids in partnership with Cottesmore or extend the lease for one more year to help parents who are facing the daycare shortage."
The Cottesmore Child Development Center was founded as a part of Henderson Bay High School, the district’s alternative high school. It was a contracted branch between the school district and the Cottesmore Christian Child Development company. The center was a way for student-mothers to have child care provided while they pursued their high school diploma. Soon after, the day care opened up to teachers, then local residents.
Jasmyn Kaiwa, a Henderson Bay graduate, said she would not have made it through high school without her family at the day care.
“I went to Henderson Bay when I was in school, I had my daughter and she went to the day care,” she said. “Then I worked there for six and a half years, then I got a job with the military.”
Kaiwa had multiple children go through the Cottesmore day care. As a teen mom, she was able to go to a new-mom class, work at the day care for a stipend and care for her daughter during school.
“It’s been such a blessing to have that center, not just me but for so many other teen parents," said Kaiwa, who had her daughter at 16. If it wasn’t for that day care I wouldn’t have graduated, because I’m a single mom. I was stuck doing it on my own.”
Kaiwa said she, Bruey and other moms are worried because they will see an increase in payments for child care, farther commutes to day care and long waiting lists. At Cottesmore in Henderson Bay, teachers received a discount for their children and teen parents were offered discounts or even free care if they had a child care subsidy from the state Department of Social and Health Services. Kaiwa said being able to use the subsidy was a lifesaver for her, but now she is facing high costs for child care while working in Bremerton.
Manahan said the daycare closure was likely to happen if the proposed $220 million bond had passed last month.
"That's certainly part of it, we don't have classroom space," Manahan said. "But (if the bond succeeded) we weren't going to build a daycare the next day. The five year lease being over caused us to look at what we were doing with Cottesmore."
Manahan said in the past the daycare served a larger group of teen parents, but now the daycare only has one teen parent attending Henderson Bay and is used mostly by teachers and residents. Parenting classes that were once offered at Cottesmore are not being offered.
"The dynamic of our relationship changed," Manahan said.
Cottesmore also has in-school day cares in Tacoma. The board did not comment on the day care’s closure during the meeting.
"There's lots of good conversation going on," Manahan said. "We are hoping to have some type of solution by the end of the week."
Director Wilhelmsen resigns from board position
During the Peninsula School District’s Board of Directors meeting, board president Marcia Harris announced director Rand Wilhelmsen resigned from the board, leaving a vacancy to fill.
Wilhelmsen was the director for District 3 in the Peninsula School District and served on the board for over eight years. Wilhelmsen was appointed to his position in 2010 and was re-elected in 2011, 2015 and 2017. His term ends in 2021. His replacement will serve the rest of his term and can be re-elected to the board.
Wilhelmsen said he resigned for "personal reasons" but felt his eight years on the board were productive for the school district.
"I think we've done great work," he said. "I think we tried really hard to get a bond passed, and I am sad about that. But that's all I have to say."
Harris said the board would have 90 days to replace Wilhelmsen. The district will take applications from qualified candidates who live within District 3, which includes the central, east and part of north Gig Harbor. The board will review applications and will pick up to five candidates to interview. After interviews, the board will make recommendations during a regular public meeting and then will appoint a candidate to the position.