Concord, NH – While most aspects of college operations at NHTI, Concord’s Community College are moving ahead at full steam through online instruction and remote work, the pandemic has placed one area of the college in a different and unfortunate position. On March 23, the college-run childcare center suspended operations when the large majority of its families made the decision to keep their children at home, based on health concerns and their family and workplace circumstances. The college stopped collecting child care fees, but kept its workforce in place through alternative work assignments that included professional development and other projects that had been deferred. But this week, with the time frame of the pandemic and recovery period unknown, NHTI announced that alternative work will run out soon and employees will be laid off as of May 7.
“We deeply regret this step,” said Gretchen Mullin-Sawicki, President of NHTI. “We will have provided continued employment for the CFDC staff for six weeks beyond the day the CFDC closed, but without children, we cannot continue to do so.” Extending employment during this time has been a financial challenge for the college. Lost revenue from March 23 through the June 30 end of the fiscal year will amount to more than $200,000, while the costs to continue paying staff during that time exceed $250,000. Mullin-Sawicki said it does not appear that federal funds can offset the financial losses seen by the center, although laid off employees will be eligible for enhanced unemployment benefits. “We even tried to offer remote “instruction” for our young pupils in their homes to keep our staff teaching and to provide the children with some type of care, but the ages of most of the children made that not a workable solution,” said Mullin-Sawicki.
The Child and Family Development Center (CFDC) is a childcare center located on the campus of NHTI and operated by the college. It is used primarily by families from the Concord region and it also functions as one of several practicum sites for NHTI students majoring in early childhood education. The CFDC normally accommodates approximately 60 children from infants through kindergarteners.
NHTI does not have a furlough provision in its contract with staff, although it does have a recall provision for work resumed within one year. “As we looked across the State, it’s clearly the case that many childcare centers closed when the pandemic hit, mostly because families removed their children from childcare facilities,” said Mullin-Sawicki. “We do not know when the pandemic situation will abate and families will be positioned to move their children back in to a childcare setting.” The layoff will affect the center’s 10 full-time and 11 part-time staff.
In the short term, the college has been working with the NH Department of Health and Human Services emergency childcare initiative to identify other places the staff might find work, and through those efforts is providing staff with a list of referral and placement possibilities. Programs such as WorkShare run through NH Employment Security did not fit the needs of the situation as it requires that the employees continue to work at least 50 percent of their hours for their employer.
In normal times there is greater demand for childcare than there are spaces. In the current public health crisis, the need is far smaller but is concentrated among families of healthcare workers and first responders, and what the DHHS unit was tasked to address by standing up emergency childcare centers. NHTI had explored re-opening the CFDC as an emergency childcare center under the state program but abandoned those conversations when the campus was chosen to house a COVID-positive medical flex site for area hospitals.
Mullin-Sawicki said that she understands this development will cause concern for families with children enrolled at the center and for employees, and her office will keep those lines of communication open. She said that a longer-term conversation needs to happen about the operating structure of the facility. “Even in normal times the CFDC operates at a significant loss, which the college has absorbed,” she said. “That is less and less feasible financially. We’ll be exploring alternatives, but that is a separate and longer-term conversation. For now, we miss our young pupils, and we regret that the pandemic has resulted in this situation.”