Taskforce to study child care issues; temporary hold on Bennett Center changes

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Penn State officials have moved back the prospective start date to April 1 for new management to take over one of its University Park child care centers and will create a task force to look at the broader range of child care issues across the University.

At the request of Hildebrandt Learning Centers -- the company that already manages the Child Care Center at Hort Woods and has been asked to manage the Bennett Family Center -- University officials have agreed to defer the move for about nine months to facilitate a smoother transition. During the interim period, the company will be able to provide more information to parents and staff about its current and future benefits programs and its overall operations. The stay also provides more time to gather comparative data and gain input from parents who have children at the two centers. The potential April 1 start date also allows affected teachers and staff more time to assess their options. Originally, Hildebrandt was expected to take over management of both centers on Aug. 19.

In addition, a task force composed of parents, faculty, staff and administrators from across Penn State will be established with the immediate assignment to look at child care at all campuses and to benchmark Penn State’s child care arrangements against those of peer institutions. Currently, six Penn State campuses offer on-campus care for children of faculty, staff and students. The task force also is expected to help clarify the roles of both the College of Health and Human Development as well as the Office of Human Resources in providing oversight for Penn State child care centers.

"The recent concerns about outside management expressed by parents of the Bennett Center led us to take a second look at all child care provided by Penn State. This is not simply a University Park issue, but one that cuts broadly across the University," said Susan Basso, Penn State's vice president for human resources. "We believe a task force can identify common concerns, define responsibilities and help coordinate policies. We also believe the findings will inform the transition of Hildebrandt at University Park."

For the past two years, the College of Health and Human Development has been responsible for the management of the Bennett Center, while Hildebrandt has managed Hort Woods since it opened in 2011. Together, both centers serve nearly 300 children. Hildebrandt also oversees the child care center at Penn State Harrisburg. In an effort to streamline operations and create a more unified approach to child care on campus, the college opted to contract with Hildebrandt for the day-to-day management of the Bennett Center as well, allowing the college to retain oversight but focus on its areas of expertise in educational programming, quality of care, research and teaching. No contract has yet been signed.

Ann C. Crouter, dean of the college, said the recent discussions with parents about outside management of the child care centers prompted officials to return to a March 2011 recommendation of the Core Council that calls for a University-wide task force and an assessment of all University-affiliated child care centers. The Core Council, a group composed of 13 senior administrators and faculty, was charged with maximizing academic potential, enhancing efficiency, reducing redundancy and freeing resources for higher priority uses.

"It was recognized by the council that management of the day-to-day operations of our child care centers should not be the central focus of the college," Crouter said. "While the college has done an excellent job in its oversight, it was clear that Hildebrandt has an exceptional record managing Hort Woods. It showed us that coordination and management by experts with broader experience in the areas of compliance, staffing, payroll, resource use and logistical considerations is key to maintaining excellent child care opportunities at Penn State."

Currently, Penn State subsidizes both Bennett Center and Hort Woods operations. The University also provides all facilities, utilities and maintenance of those centers. In 2010, the 21,500-square-foot Hort Woods center was built at a cost of $8.3 million. In addition, a dedicated staff member in OHR for the past 12 years has been writing grant applications that have netted on average $375,000 each year to assist between 400-500 children and their families across the University with tuition. An extra $95,000 comes annually from the Student Activity Fee as well to help low-income students manage child care costs.

"We understand the importance of high-quality child care and we want to continue to offer that to parents. Our child care centers are staffed with even richer ratios of professionals than what is required by the Department of Public Welfare for licensure," Basso said. "We continue to believe that Hildebrandt, which already has a proven track record right on campus, is a move to better oversight of day-to-day operations."

Under the Hildebrandt plan, the 33 full-time employees at Bennett and the seven Hort Woods employees who are currently Penn State employees would move to Hildebrandt employment. Consistent with other similar management arrangements, the benefits package for these employees would change following the transition. At Hort Woods, 31 staff members are already Hildebrandt employees. The company has offered to retain both the current salaries and seniority levels of all full-time staff members when the transition occurs in April.

Basso said she has done a detailed analysis of Hildebrandt’s employee benefits offerings and will be undertaking a closer look at the issue, along with Hildebrandt.

One sticking point for Bennett Center parents caused by the transition is the loss of the Penn State tuition waiver for employees at the centers. "The issue of a tuition discount, unfortunately, can't be resolved in the manner that parents wish," Basso said. "The University cannot commit benefits of any kind, now or in the future, to non-Penn State employees, but we are willing to review and discuss potential options."  

Basso said that more information for the University community will be provided in the coming weeks. Dean Crouter indicated that during the next several months, she and Susan Basso, as well as president Rodney Erickson plan to meet with a small group of parents from both centers. Erickson plans to charge the new task force, chaired by Basso, early in the fall semester. Results and recommendations from the task force are expected to be complete by the end of December.

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Last Updated July 09, 2013