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Parents Hope to Fight for Bennett Center at Board of Trustees Meeting

by on July 11, 2013 7:00 AM

A dispute over child care at Penn State has delayed plans to outsource jobs at the Bennett Family Child Care Center. The university wants Hildebrandt Learning Centers to take over.

Current workers would lose their university benefits and parents worry those workers will look for jobs elsewhere. Penn State has now delayed any changes until next April.

Parents who want the faculty and staff to remain Penn State employees aren't backing off. A task force is being formed to search for alternative solutions.

Some parents have petitioned to speak at the Penn State Board of Trustees meeting on Friday. They're hopeful the trustees will see the importance of high-quality child care at the university and put pressure on the administration to keep the Bennett Family Child Care Center as a Penn State entity. 

"Outreach has been really central, and I hope the board will agree with us that the core mission of the university is serve the people across the state," says assistant English professor and mother of two, Emily Harrington. 

Penn State hasn't yet announced which members of the public have been selected to address the board. The parents hope as many of their voices as possible will be heard.

In August, some parents will make their case during a private meeting with Penn State President Rodney Erickson, Ann Crouter, Dean of the College of Health and Human Development and Susan Basso, Vice President for Human Resources.

Harrington says she's pleased the turnover isn't happening in the next few weeks, as originally scheduled, but wants to make sure the administration knows parents won't just settle for a "smooth transition."

The task force will include Bennett Family Center faculty and parents.

"Ideally, the board could take a position on this and put pressure on the administration to preserve the real excellence in child care that we have right now on campus," Harrington says.

The Bennett Center is a special place with the current faculty and staff it has, Harrington says, and she doesn't want that to change if Penn State turns the center over to Hildebrandt. 

Harrington's husband, Debashis Ghosh, a statistics professor, says some parents met on Wednesday to discuss what they'll say to the board, if they're allowed to speak. He thinks the task force should focus on comparing Penn State's current child care program to those at other Big Ten universities, looking for ways to keep the Bennett staff working as Penn State employees. 

In a prepared statement university spokeswoman Lisa Powers says university administration is happy to give Hildebrandt until April to get to know the families at the Bennett Center and sees the task force as a way to work with the parents and staff.

"This is a tremendous opportunity for Penn State to look across its offerings in child care and dig deep to determine the exact needs of each community, to look at our ability to offer the best care at every campus and see the resources being invested, as well as the subsidies we may be providing for parents who need help.

"We need to wrap our arms around the entire child care issue to ensure that children are being well-cared for and that a quality experience continues to be provided on our campuses. It's part of our commitment to children," she says.

The other child care center at Penn State, Hort Woods, was turned over to Hildebrandt in 2010, though some of the staff are still Penn State employees and would also lose benefits with the pending switch in 2014.

The board of trustees meets for committee meetings starting at 9:30 a.m. Thursday and reconvenes at 1:30 p.m. Friday for its regular public meeting. Stay with StateCollege.com and follow @StateCollegecom for updates throughout the meetings.

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Laura Nichols is a StateCollege.com news reporter and @LC_Nichols on Twitter.
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