Tyr Persson enrolled his daughter in day care at Christ the King Lutheran Church in mid-December, weeks before the early learning center announced it was closing.
“I was relieved that I found it, and I pretty much had the rug ripped out from under me,” he said.
The church let parents know about a week in advance that it planned to close Children’s World Early Learning Center on Friday, catching Persson by surprise, he said.
In La Plata County, day care centers have been closing faster than new centers are opening, and it is unknown what percentage of children in the area do not have access to care, said Heather Hawk, executive director of the Early Childhood Council of La Plata County.
Hawk said she doesn’t know why new programs aren’t opening faster, but it is a trend happening elsewhere in Colorado. Since 2010, the state has lost more than 7,000 slots for infant care, according to the Colorado Children’s Campaign.
Early learning centers have a “precarious” business model that relies on private tuition and subsidies from the state for those families who qualify, Hawk said.
The Lutheran Church decided to close Children’s World because of declining enrollment and funding problems, which are directly related, said the Rev. Tim Orlowski. The decline in enrollment was related to staff turnover, he said last week.
The center also struggled with accepting a high number of students who qualify for state-subsidized child care, he said.
Staff members at the center and parents disagreed with the decision to close the center and said enrollment could be boosted. Staff members declined to be named because they fear speaking out publicly could harm their future job opportunities.
Enrollment was set to grow before the closure, and the center had to turn students away shortly before the closure, staff said. Staff members also disputed turnover was a problem.
The center received at least 16 inquiries from parents interested in care shortly after The Durango Herald published a story earlier this month about the center’s closure, the staff said.
Orlowski said he was not aware enrollment was set to grow, but he was aware of inquires seeking care in recent days.
Persson said he doesn’t understand how the learning center could be struggling with enrollment when there is a shortage of child care across La Plata County.
“It’s not hard to find kids that need day care,” he said.
In response to questions about whether the center could stay open and attempt to boost enrollment, Orlowski said: “Low enrollment has been an ongoing issue, not just a current one, and one that our board has tried to address for some time.”
Children’s World parent Britnnie Frank has had her children enrolled at the center for three years. She said she was caught off guard by the announcement of the closure.
“I started panicking,” she said
Children’s World is the second preschool to close recently in La Plata County.
Ignacio Early Learning Center is expected to open 48 new slots soon, but a date has not yet been announced, said Eileen Wasserbach, executive director of Southern Colorado Community Action Agency, the nonprofit opening the center. The center has some open toddler slots, but no full-time toddler care is available. The center has a waiting list for its preschool slots, she said.
The council can help those parents seeking child care by providing a tailored list of centers in the area parents can contact for care, Hawk said.
The Early Childhood Council can be reached at 247-0760.