Grace Church waiting for word on policy paperwork for childcare center

By Anna Jauhola
Finding childcare across the state of Minnesota is a struggle. In Kittson County, it’s no different.
As Hallock continues its quest to grow and gain 100 new neighbors in 10 years, Main Street volunteers are working to establish a childcare center to help supplement the care already available.
“We’ve met with just about every acronym entity out there,” said Mark Johnson, who is on the Grace Lutheran Church council and a volunteer for Hallock Main Street
During a meeting on Tuesday, May 14, Johnson updated the Main Street group about the church’s efforts on the childcare center.
“We’ve been working with DHS (state Department of Human Services) to go through the work to submit the plan,” Johnson said.
The church council submitted its policy paperwork through the state earlier this year, but it was sent back in need of clerical corrections. They resubmitted the paperwork with information in the correct locations according to the state’s requirements, Johnson said, noting that now they are waiting to hear back.
“That’s just the policy end of it,” he said. “Now, if that passes, you can consider the financial picture or renovate the facility to be in compliance with the physical rules.”
The plans for the childcare center are to house it in the space formerly used for Tiny Tots preschool. Johnson said the church would help subsidize the program by incurring heating costs and covering insurance rather than the center having a policy of its own.
“We sat down at church council and said someone needs to take the lead on (childcare). Grace Church has taken the position to subsidize it but not at a negative to our overall congregation,” Johnson said.
So patience is key at this point, especially as they wade through the bureaucracy for the good of the community.
Should the policy paperwork go through, Johnson said then the financial aspect will begin to take shape. Before they can even take kids on, the space within the church and a portion outside would need renovations.
“Our gut tells us at this point, we’re probably looking at a $20,000 expenditure from these one-time costs,” Johnson said. “Having the right amount of toys, the right amount of books, the right floor plan acceptable by DHS, to have the playground to meet requirements.”
As this plan takes shape – it’s already been a two-year process – the financial cost will also become more solid.
“But we’re not sure on that because we can’t go to that point until we have the policy handbook in place,” he said.
Although they have this groundwork in place, officials from the state have told Johnson this type of daycare simply won’t work with Hallock’s low population. Johnson countered that the state’s reasoning is based on building a center from ground up as opposed to operating in an existing space with various costs subsidized through the church.
The biggest need immediately in the area are spots for infants. However, Johnson said starting out the center with infants will likely lead to failure because it does not generate enough income to cover the cost of a licensed care provider.
According to state law, a childcare center can have four infants to one provider, seven toddlers to one provider, 10 preschoolers (age 3-5) to one teacher and 15 school-age children to one teacher.
“Financially, it works to start out with toddlers and preschool, but you go backwards or lose money if you add in infants right away,” Johnson said. “But the toddler and preschool group plus elementary students come in after school or in the summer, that’s where it becomes a break-even or feasible nonprofit entity that can survive in the long run.”
Johnson laments that this plan will not help those who need a spot for infants now, but he hopes the plan will work to create a viable childcare center for years to come.

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