CLAREMONT — Revenue shortfalls due to limited enrollment capacity are forcing the Green Mountain Children’s Center (GMCC) to dramatically increase their tuition rates for preschool and after-school programs by 28 to 30% at the start of February.
On Jan. 3, the GMCC Board of Directors notified their families in New Hampshire and Vermont that due to operating deficits the organization will increase all their child care tuition rates by 28 to 30% starting Feb. 3.
“Please note that this was not an easy decision and the board waited as long as possible to make this decision,” the letter informed families. “Our tuition rates have lagged behind our counterparts for many years. While it was a benefit to GMCC families, it has become a detriment to the overall health of the organization.”
GMCC provides early child education and after-school services, with campus locations in Claremont and White River Junction, Vermont. Each campus provides full-day early child education to children between the ages of 6 weeks old and 6 years old. The organization also runs a preschool for 3-to-4-year-olds with special needs in Vermont, summer camps and after-school programs at Maple Avenue and Disnard Elementary Schools in Claremont.
GMCC’s Executive Director Sharon Miller-Dombroski said that, in hindsight, the board should have been raising the rates incrementally rather than waiting so long to act.
“Our rates have lagged behind other centers for the last 20 years,” she said. “We held off [raising them] because we were optimistic that we’d be able to hit our enrollment figure. But that didn’t work out.”
The underlying barrier to enrollment is not a lack of families needing services, but a market shortage of teachers and staff to fill positions, according to Dombroski.
“As an industry, our enrollment capacity is based more on our ability to hire teachers, not the building square footage,” she said.
New Hampshire and Vermont laws require early child programs to maintain specific staff-to-child ratios. These ratios vary according to the ages of children served. For example, for children ages 6-12 months, the teacher-child ratio is 1-to-4; for two-year-olds, the ratio is 1-to-6; and for 4-year-olds, the ratio is 1-to-12.
In addition to having a director for each program, each classroom should have either a licensed lead teacher or associate and one assistant teacher with at least nine credits in early child education.
A combination of low nationwide unemployment and a less competitive payscale for early child education teachers compared to many other professions make it difficult to find and retain teachers and staff, according to Dombroski.
Though some operating costs such as utilities and food for meals and snacks have gone up, GMCC has not overextended on its expenses budget, according to Dombroski. However, many of those expense lines remain fixed, regardless of a program’s enrollment size.
“We’re just not hitting the revenue projection we targeted,” she said.
Working on solutions
In the Jan. 3 letter, the GMCC Board of Directors said they are “still working feverishly” to secure grant funds and restarting a fundraising committee to garner additional income. These revenues will aim to reduce tuition costs through scholarships and helping fund operating expenses.
Dombroski reported that the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation just awarded $10,000 to GMCC for the organization’s scholarship fund, which will help defray some of the tuition cost on families.
The scholarship fund operates mainly on a “first come, first serve” basis, with an intent to serve as many families as possible. Dombroski said that she was, “very grateful for the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation’s support.” While the foundation has contributed funds to GMCC’s enrichment programs, this is the charitable organization’s first time contributing scholarship money.
In April, the COOP Food Store in Lebanon will designate proceeds from their Pennies for Change Program to the GMCC. In the Pennies for Change Program, store customers may choose to round up the change in their grocery or cafe bill as a charitable donation.
Dombroski also said that GMCC’s reformed fundraising committee held a meeting last night and discussed a variety of ideas. The fundraising committee will be seeking the involvement and support from parents and the community, which will be discussed in further detail at GMCC’s scheduled community meetings. The first of two community meetings will be held on Thursday, Jan. 16 at 6 p.m. at the GMCC facility in Hartford, Vermont; the second meeting will be on Thursday, Jan. 23, at 6 p.m. at its facility in Claremont.
Claremont center is not closing
In an anonymous letter to the Eagle Times, a parent said that she suspected that GMCC plans to close the Claremont location, as reflected by GMCC repaving of the property’s driveway in the fall and painting of the building.
Responding to the anonymously-sourced rumor that GMCC may be closing its center in Claremont, Dombroski responded that the rumor is completely untrue.
Dombroski told the Eagle Times Tuesday that GMCC has been working on the pavement plan for about two years, but had to delay the project due to past weather complications and scheduling conflicts.
“The driveway had been a mess, with potholes and surface cracks where children might possibly trip, and was unsafe for people both coming and going,” Dombroski said.
Additionally, Dombroski said that they lease the building and have “a very good working relationship with the landowner,” who has not expressed any intention to sell the property.