Childcare faces budget cuts

The Portland State Children’s Center’s refrigerator melted down last week and center coordinator Kim Allen said she does not know when the center will be able to buy a replacement. Allen also said she does not know when it will be possible to repaint the center’s chipped walls or replace its eight-year-old computers.

“Every year the Student Fee Committee has been so good to us,” Allen said. “It’s just within the last year or so that things have fallen apart.”

Across campus, the popular Helen Gordon Child Development Center is also scrambling to make up lost funds. Recent cuts took $25,000 from the Helen Gordon budget.

“The only way to make up the difference was to take it out of personnel costs,” said Ellie Justice, the Helen Gordon Center’s co-director.

Though approximately 485 student families are waitlisted to enter the on-campus daycare centers, both of which are high in demand, the programs are scrambling under the new budget constraints. While raising student fees by $30 per term, the Student Fee Committee also cut 3 percent from all student groups’ budgets this February.

The Student Fee Committee allocates nearly $10 million in student incidental fees to student groups, including the Vanguard and athletics.

Portland State University’s childcare centers earn money from charging parents a per-hour childcare fee, yet student fees make it possible to offer student parents a favorable rate.

“If our budget is $200,000,” Allen said, “we can make $80,000 and the rest comes from student fees.”

The Children’s Center, located in Smith Memorial Student Union, will have nearly $12,000 cut from its $200,000 budget.

Without a subsidy, many student parents might find it difficult to attend the university. Childcare in downtown Portland can cost up to $1,000 per month, said Lola Lawson, coordinator of Student Parent Services, a PSU resource center for student parents funded by student fees.

One solution for parents unable to enroll their children in campus daycare is to seek assistance from the Student Parent Services office, where Lawson can direct student parents to state-certified childcare providers. Her office also disburses $55,000 per year in financial assistance to parents using off-campus childcare.

The Women’s Resource Center recently debunked a rumor that the center was about to start a daycare center to fill the campus childcare gap. Instead, a group of student parents at the Women’s Resource Center have started working on a listserv for student parents, called Parent Project, which will allow student parents to exchange information and childcare.

“The seed of the rumor is that different students are doing projects to support parents on campus,” said Bridge Gorrow, interim director of the Women’s Resource Center.

Although there is no way to know exactly how many student parents attend PSU – that information is considered confidential and is not collected by the university – Allen said many PSU students are not typical college students.

“They aren’t your everyday 18-year-old coming from high school,” Allen said. “They’re returning with two children and a dog.”

“PSU is supposed to be prepared to deal with alternative students,” said Rosario Ruvalcaba, a volunteer at the Women’s Resource Center.

PSU’s first childcare center was opened in 1971, two years after a group of student mothers held a sit-in in the president’s office demanding on-campus child services.

The Helen Gordon Child Development Center, located at Southwest 12th and Market, opened its doors in 1973, while the Smith Center Children’s Center opened in 1999.