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UDMO director clarifies position

July 23, 2013
Estherville Daily News

To the EDN:

I would like to thank the ELC District School Board for allowing us to submit a proposal and say a few words at the hearing on Monday evening. We appreciated the opportunity. We would also like to congratulate Ms. Pyawasit of A Child's World Daycare Center for being awarded the opportunity to purchase the McKinley Building. All of the staff and our Board of Directors wish her all of the success in the future.

I wanted to be able to share a few things surrounding what I observed and what was said at the hearing in the hopes of dissuading any misperception or misconceptions regarding UDMO's and our Head Start programs intent for placing an offer to also purchase this facility.

First, I must say that I was surprised at the passion and conviction of the community at their support of the issue regarding accessibility and availability of retaining child care in the community of Estherville. It is this type of "community action" that makes our communities in northwest Iowa such a wonderful place to live. I am just as humbled at the level of concern and support expressed by the community members of Estherville to retain a much needed child care provider for their community. However, as I said at the hearing, A Child's World was NEVER and I repeat NEVER at any risk of having to close their doors if UDMO was awarded the option for purchase. We have and always will be in the business of sustaining and promoting quality child care for all of the communities in our service area. I am not certain as to who and how this misconception was ever conveyed to Ms. Pyawasit, the parents who used the child care, and concerned citizens, but it was exactly that; a misconception and untrue. One that was never expressed by anyone from UDMO. Unfortunately, Ms. Pyawasit could not and would not offer the same concession to our Early Head Start program as stated at the hearing.

A little over a year ago, when we and Ms. Pyawasit learned that the ELC School District was looking to divest themselves of the McKinley Building, UDMO staff and Ms. Pyawasit met and discussed with her the purchase of the facility. It was shared with us at that time that she was concerned at her ability to afford the facility as well as her ability maintain it ongoing. We assured her that we would be willing to partner with her no matter if she owned it or UDMO purchased it. We would support A Child's World in providing child care to the community. We included Ms. Pyawasit in all of our discussions throughout this time and have never had a hidden agenda. This has been our position then and was our expressed position at the hearing on Monday evening. Nothing has ever changed.

As we conveyed to the reporter and to the board that evening, our primary reason for any interest to purchase the facility was the same as A Child's World; to insure that our Early Head Start Program had a home now and in the future, just like the one we guaranteed Ms. Pyawasit for A Child's World. We expressed that we were willing to enter into a long term lease. Our goal was to protect the interests of the children and families we served and this would be accomplished by assuring that we could meet all licensing and over 1,800 federal regulations mandated on our Head Start program. UDMO is not conglomerate like Walmart; seeking to control the child care in the community. We can only serve what and who we are funded to serve. As a matter of fact, many of our parents use A Child's World services in the morning and at the end of the day for the hours that Early Head Start did not provide care. Obviously, it was in our best interest that we promoted and supported A Child's World as much as possible.

It was interesting and discerning to listen to some of the concerns as to what local citizens felt about UDMO's intent. I want to let everyone know that UDMO and our Head Start program are not the "bad guys" in this recent issue. Like A Child's World, we leased space from the school and had the use of only 38.6% of the space. It wasn't possible for us to be "squeezing anyone out" when A Child's World controlled the space used! In addition, we were asked, and we agreed, to let Ms. Pyawasit, use some of the space we are currently paying rent on over the summer months. Again, this is space UDMO Head Start is paying rent on. We entered into a contract with A Child's World and paid our utilities based on the space we rented and in addition, we paid for the purchase and installation of the playground and the equipment as well as renovated the kitchen and installed the appliances and water softener, and made numerous other renovations to the building at a cost of almost $200,000 and all of this was used by A Child's World at no cost. It is evident that we at no time took advantage nor had the upper hand in this collaboration/partnership. Like A Child's World, we were there to provide services to the children and families enrolled in our program. Our Early Head Start program generates several hundred thousand dollars a year in revenue to the community through salaries and expenses paid by the program. We would also be obligated to the same property taxes as the school system was and since A Child's World used most of the space we would have had to pay 61.4% of the tax owed on the facility per year.

So what are we trying to say? We understand how important child care is to families and the communities in which they live. We understand the importance of quality early childhood care and education and work hard every day to insure that we remain in the forefront in providing quality services to our most vulnerable children and their families. To be successful at this, we also understand the importance of community partnership and collaboration. What our Head Start program and our entire community action agency does can be summed up in our promise:

"Community Action changes people's lives, embodies the spirit of hope, improves communities, and makes America a better place to live. We care about the entire community, and we are dedicated to helping people help themselves and each other"

This is our commitment and our "intention" for the communities we serve. No hidden agenda. We will continue to provide the highest quality early childhood development services possible and will continue to collaborate with partners in the community who share the same convictions. We would have simply wished that we were addressed with concerns before the hearing and before a decision was made to dispel any misperceptions. Unfortunately, this issue had to have a winner and/or a loser, and sadly the issue was never thoroughly discussed. We would have loved the opportunity to dispel any misperceptions and misconceptions. We at UDMO believe there are always multiple sides to an issue and possibly more than one solution. I, for one, always try to not form judgments on any issue without getting the "whole story".

We are going to work diligently at maintaining our partnerships in Estherville and are committed to providing our Head Start services in the county of Emmet. We see this issue as a learning opportunity and will work with all community members with the goal of developing "all" early childhood development services where needed. We have been a partner and devoted member of the Estherville community for over 30 years and will be there in the decades to come, serving and supporting the community, individuals, children and families in need of our services. Thank you.

Jamey M. Whitney,

Executive Director-Upper Des Moines Opportunity, Inc.



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