Area child-care centers get more for their money by forming alliance

By TIM MEKEEL, Business Editor In May, St. Paul Christian Early Learning Center in Lititz lost its administrative assistant, when she left for another job. But before hiring a replacement, St. Paul learned that a new alliance of local child-care programs had a full-time one who needed more to do. So St. Paul and the alliance, named Early Childhood Innovative Connections, decided to split her salary and have her work for both. “That saved St. Paul $12,000 a year in one little move,” said Gail Price, St. Paul executive director. This philosophy of sharing services, expertise, resources and expenses is driving the launch of ECIC — the first organization of its type in the state. After operating on a pilot basis for a year, with 10 child-care programs involved, the alliance shifts to expanded, permanent form Monday. Sixteen programs will be participating. Together, they serve more than 1,800 children and have more than 350 employees. Three more programs have verbally expressed their intention to join. The innovative alliance seeks to relieve the financial and time pressures on child-care programs and their directors. “It’s a different way of thinking,” said June Hershberger, executive director of ECIC and its parent organization, Diamond Street Early Childhood Center in Akron. “This means coming out of our silos and asking how we can operate more efficiently. “It’s a real shift in our mindset. But it will be better for us and the kids,” she said. For a monthly membership fee, ECIC handles common tasks facing all child-care programs. These include recruiting potential new and substitute teachers, offering state-mandated orientation sessions for new hires and offering training for teachers, directors, parents and board members. The alliance also will gather and share information about the wages the member programs pay and the tuition they charge. In the future, ECIC envisions handling enrollment, billing, payroll, purchasing, insurance and other tasks for its member programs. Beyond those services, ECIC sees itself someday giving scholarships to needy children and telling businesses how to get tax credits for their donations. Hershberger explained that more efficient programs find it easier to raise the quality of their programs. “If you can save money, you can put that money back into quality, because quality programs cost more,” said Hershberger. Ditto for saving time. As Hershberger and Price described it, the typical child-care program has its director handling many business-related tasks. Those are essential for keeping the bills paid, the lights on and the doors open. But that’s not what the directors are trained to do. “You have directors that have degrees in early childhood or elementary education, not business,” said Price. “One person just can’t do it all,” she continued. “If we can take away some of those responsibilities — I should say burdens, almost — then the director can spend more time in the classroom mentoring teachers and working with families.” That sounds good to Michelle Harbaugh, founder and executive director of Steps to Success in Leola. Since opening Steps to Success in 1995, she’s seen it grow to 101 children and 22 employees — and seen her workload grow accordingly. “I just knew there had to be some way to work smarter and get the same or better results,” said Harbaugh. Buy FF14 items Harbaugh joined the pilot effort and, like all the pilot participants, has stayed in the alliance. Fjallraven Kanken mini The alliance’s applicant pool by itself was appealing enough to convince Harbaugh to join and stay. Not only has it spared her the time and aggravation of finding candidates, the pool has higher-caliber candidates than she could find on her own. “That alone would make me sign up,” she said. “It’s such a stress reliever for me.” A state early-learning official likewise sees significant merit in the alliance. “This is very much a leading-edge initiative…,” said Barb Minzenberg, deputy secretary of the state Office of Child Development and Early Learning. “It’s a very smart approach.” Minzenberg noted that the child-care industry “is not a richly resourced field,” making the sharing of services a wise strategy. “Even the best and most efficient early childhood providers are challenged to simply break even,” she added. Hershberger said she got the idea for the alliance in 2010 from an article in a professional magazine about shared services. She took the idea to the chairman of the Diamond Street board, Gerald Meck, the former CEO of United Disabilities, who supported it. Next Hershberger approached the Lancaster County Community Foundation. The foundation provided a $20,000 grant for 2011, then a $50,000 matching grant for the next year. That was enough to hire a consultant, form an advisory group of program directors, present professional-development sessions and take out newspaper ads tied to the national “Week of the Young Child.” With that momentum, ECIC next rolled out the pilot program in 2012. More support came when PNC Bank donated $5,000 both last year and this year. asics gel lyte v The pilot program’s main feature was that shared staffing pool, which ECIC stocked by attending job fairs and visiting colleges. The pool ended up with more than 50 applicants. Any of the programs in the pilot effort could tap any of the applicants in the pool. The applicant pool is part of one category of services, dubbed “Staffing Connections,” that ECIC will offer its member programs going forward. Starting Monday, ECIC will manage the staffing pool via cloud-based software rather than a spread sheet. “Staffing Connections” still will include three days of state-mandated orientation for new hires. But the sessions will be offered more frequently. Topics will include pediatric first-aid and CPR, child-abuse awareness and fire safety. Under “Professional Connections,” ECIC will offer eight hours of leadership training for directors and two hours of training for teachers. There also will be training for board members, parenting workshops and a mini-conference. Again, these will be presented more frequently than when ECIC was in its pilot phase. Under “Information Connections,” ECIC will track and share tuition rates at its member programs. The alliance also will give member programs access to “SharedSource Pennsylvania,” a website of best practices. To be eligible to join the alliance, programs need to have one of two qualifications. They must be accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children. Or they must participate in the state Keystone STARS early-childhood quality-improvement program. Fees for membership in ECIC are pegged to the size of the program. Those with up to 49 children enrolled pay $99 a month. For those with 50 to 99 children, the fee is $149 a month. ffxiv gil For those with 100 or more children, the fee is $199 a month. For those fees, Hershberger pointed out, the programs receive more than financial benefits. Their directors also find an opportunity to share ideas and issues with supportive and knowledgeable counterparts at other programs. “There’s the tangible savings, but it’s not just that,” she said. Besides Steps to Success, St. Paul and Diamond Street (two programs), other alliance participants are: Cocalico Care Center in Denver, Reamstown Childcare and Early Learning Center, Grace Place Childcare and Learning Center in Lancaster, Columbia Childcare and Learning Center, Sonshine Child Development Center in Lititz, Children’s Corner at Moravian Manor, New Holland Early Learning Center, Head Start in Lancaster (three), God’s Little Gifts in Lancaster and Sunshine Corners in Strasburg.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *