Proposed Child Center cuts prompt outcry from community


Rosalie Richardson

Winona State had made the decision to restructure the Child Center’s staffing requirements, which includes wages, educational experience and lesson planning structure. Winona State faculty, staff and students created a petition that was in opposition to the restructuring of the Children Center and has garnered more than 300 signatures.

Alek LaShomb, News Editor

On March 26, Winona State University Child Center Director Cheryl Vogel announced drastic restructuring plans for the educational facility.
In a university news blog post, Vogel said Winona State had made the difficult decision to restructure the Child Center’s staffing requirements, which includes changes in wages, educational experience and lesson planning structure.
The announcement stated eight out of nine current teaching positions, which require staff to have a bachelor’s degree and to create individual lesson plans, will be reduced to lesser qualified positions that will “mimic other models across the state”.
The new, lesser-qualified positions will toss out the teaching license requirement and reduce educational requirements so that “staff will need an associate’s degree in Early Childhood Education or Child Development and two years of direct classroom experience or a bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education, Elementary Education or Elementary or Special Education, along with one year of direct classroom experience,” according to the university’s news blog.
Two licensed teachers, instead of eight, will create lesson plans under the university’s new model, shifting most in-class teaching to assistant teachers, according to the news blog post.
The university’s news blog said the cuts are due to a sustained structural deficit of $150,000.
In response to the university’s announcement, Winona State faculty, staff and students created a petition in opposition to the restructuring of the Children Center. The petition has garnered more than 300 signatures.
Jennifer Anderson is both a professor of geoscience at Winona State and an advisor to education majors, her children having attended the Child Center for roughly five and a half years as well.
In response to the pay cuts for the Child Center staff positions, Anderson said the lowest financial wage reduction would be $15,000, while the highest cut could be $30,000.
“Restructuring is $200 thousand for the education department. The university had to find $4.4 million this year to cut. So just to give you an idea, that is almost 5% of the entire cuts of the university coming from these nine positions, or positions,” Anderson said. “Eight of these women have lost their jobs and they’re asked to reapply.”
Anderson said out of all the Child Center’s in Winona, the university’s was the only one that closed for six months due to COVID-19.
“The administration is not allowing the Child Center to open at full capacity and it could have been opened at full capacity for months now,” Anderson said.
Anderson also disputed the Child Center’s supposed structural deficit, citing rent payments made prior to the new facilities opening.
“The Child Center paid two years of rent for the use of the basement in Maria Hall and Creek Side apartments. The Child Center was charged $80,000 a year, so if you deduct the rent paid to these facilities, then it’s significantly less than the $150,000 deficit they claim,” Anderson said.
Anderson also said the new Child Center has been unable to operate at full capacity due to administration, who are currently only allowing operations at a third of Center’s overall occupancy.
“Like, it seems to me that if you’re going to claim that the Child Center is running at a deficit, then you should at least give them a year in their new building at full capacity with their teachers working in one place and not paying rent,” Anderson said.
Phoebe Frantz, a fourth-year student majoring in elementary education and early childhood development, is a student staff employee at the Child Center who also took issue with the Center’s restructure.
Instead of operating two rooms with 12 infants in each, the Child Center has reduced room size to one with eight infants.
With the Child Center’s toddler rooms, occupancy has been reduced from two rooms with 14 toddlers each, to one room with six toddlers.
Frantz said preschool rooms have a maximum capacity of seven to eight students but are not currently full.
“So, we are really under capacity right now and not serving what we could be serving,” Frantz said.
Frantz, like Anderson, questioned the budget deficit due to the Child Center waitlist.
“We have proven we have minimal spreading in the Center. We have followed these strict protocols. We have staff that are getting tested weekly. We have the vaccine and it’s still halted. So, to me, when you tell me that the Child Center has a budget deficit but has a waitlist – It doesn’t align, it doesn’t make sense. So, that’s the biggest gap that I’m questioning,”
Frantz said.
Amira Shanaa is a co-worker of Frantz at the Child Center and is also a fourth-year student majoring in elementary education and teaching.
Shanaa said there are families pleading for their kids to be admitted at the Child Center due to inadequacies from other early childhood education centers in Winona.
“It’s shocking to me as an education student that you would be willing to do this to such a strong aspect [of the program] we’re able to offer,” Shanaa said. “And going back to the budget thing, if you’re getting rid of this, you’re turning away so many potential future students, which could attract more money. You [Winona State] just spent however much money on this Education Village to attract more students to make this a focal point of the university.”
Shanaa also criticized the lowering of educational requirements needed to become a staff member at the Child Center.
“I can’t imagine being supervised by someone who only has a two-year degree and has two years of experience. I literally cannot imagine that, because if I’m first-year teaching, next year, I can’t imagine them being like, by the way, you’re supervising a certain teacher,” Shanaa said.
Winona State’s administration recently commented on the backlash from students, faculty and staff over the proposed restructuring.
On Thursday, an email from President Olson’s office claimed the university has made no decision, despite stating “[Winona State] has made the difficult decision to restructure its staffing organization,” in the first paragraph of the original news release.
The university also acknowledged they “inadvertently skipped a necessary step in the contractual notification process for the affected employees and with the Administrative and Service Faculty (ASF) collective bargaining unit,” according to the email.
Proposed restructuring plans, at least for the moment, appear to be on hold, as ASF negotiates details with the school’s administration.
Winona State’s administration has yet to determine when a final proposal will be approved.