Marking 70th year, UM Child Study Center faces uncertain future

Posted April 12, 2009, at 10:10 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 12:22 p.m.

ORONO, Maine — The Child Study Center at the University of Maine is planning a party to celebrate its 70th anniversary, while facing the possibility it won’t have a 71st.

The center, which serves as both a preschool for children and a laboratory for UMaine psychology students, is being considered for elimination as the university seeks to cut $8.8 million from its budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

The party will go on, however, with activities Tuesday open to all current and former families and students of the school. The party will be held 4-6 p.m. in Bodwell Lounge in the Collins Center for the Arts.

Refreshments will be served and the party is free. Head teacher Kevin Duplissie said he ordered 100 teddy bears wearing commemorative T-shirts to give out to families. Tours of the school will be offered at 4:20 p.m. and 4:40 p.m.

Although budget cuts are not complete, Jeff Hecker, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, said he did notify Duplissie that the center could be closed next fall because of the budget shortfall.

The college must cut about $1.4 million from its budget. With about 90 percent of the budget going to employee salaries and benefits, the cuts will be about eliminating positions rather than programs.

Hecker said the college could eliminate the equivalent of 9.9 faculty positions by not filling positions held by retiring employees or those who have left for other jobs. Layoffs are, however, inevitable.

“By not filling vacated faculty [positions] … it’s not a great way to do things, but there’s less of a human toll if we’re not laying people off,” he said. “We’re trying to meet this budget cut without laying people off, but the reality is we’re not going to get there.”

The center’s budget is $90,000, $80,000 of which is for salaries and benefits.

Hecker is hoping to have a decision on the center’s future before the end of April. Meanwhile, parents hope if the center can stave off elimination for one year they can seek outside funding or set up an endowment.

A year’s reprieve also would give parents who already had signed up for next fall time to find a different school for their child.

“A lot of preschools for the fall are already full,” said Katie Christensen, president of the CSC Parent Association. “That leaves a lot of us in a tough situation because quality programs are hard to find, especially some that have openings. We feel a little cheated in that aspect.”

Hecker said giving the center a year would be ideal but may not be realistic.

“I need to cut [the budget] now, but I am looking at that as an option, [finding] a way to continue to fund [positions] for an additional year,” he said. “That’s really where I’m hoping where we’ll get to.”

Christensen said she thinks parents would accept a small tuition increase, but an increase that would keep the entire program afloat likely would be prohibitive. Christensen, who lives in student housing, said she pays $660 for her son to attend five days a week from January to May.

During the week the center serves 42 children from 35 families. One-third of those families include parents who are students at UMaine, another third are employee families, and the final third are families in the general public.

Enrollment in the program is first-come, first-served.

The center now instructs 30 students in UMaine’s psychology program who conduct research and learn about childhood development.

Should the center close, Hecker said, the university could develop relationships with other local preschools to provide the same opportunities for UMaine students.

“We’re very proud of the Child Study Center,” said Hecker, a former psychology professor. “This is difficult for me and it’s inconsistent with our long-range plans.”

For information about the center or Tuesday’s party, e-mail kevin_duplissie@umit.maine.edu.

jbloch@bangordailynews.net

990-8287

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