Fate of Columbus Junction child care center uncertain


Columbus Community Childcare Center has struggled to hire and retain staff, citing lack of funding to pay competitive wages.

COLUMBUS JUNCTION, Iowa — A 20-year-old child care center in Columbus Junction could be facing closure without more funding and community support.

Columbus Community Childcare Center has around 30 kids enrolled currently but is licensed to handle 101. Directors believe it to be the only licensed child care center in Columbus Junction.

An Iowa task force studying child care found last year that Iowa had the third lowest number of child care workers among Midwest states. It also announced last year the state had lost 33% of available child care in the last five years. It further reported 23% of Iowans live within child care deserts, an area with limited access to child care, but it’s estimated to be closer to 35% in rural areas.

Columbus Community Childcare Center understands this shortage of workers. Currently, it only has six on staff, but is hiring and would like to have at least 10.

In June, 4Cs of Johnson County, an Iowa City-based organization, took over the operation of the center from its board.

“It’s a low-wage position to begin with,” said Missie Forbes, the executive director of 4Cs. “In a small town, when you’re competing with other industries, especially in Columbus Junction, we’ve got Tyson as well as the school district that are able to pay more, and so we really struggle to be able to compete in this environment. There’s not a lot of people population wise and then combine that with those other two industries.”

There’s been days the center has had to close classrooms or close early because of being short-staffed.

Forbes is advocating for more funding for day care centers, especially in rural areas. She wants it to be seen as a viable profession, because it’s not just babysitting, it’s preparing kids academically and socially for school, Forbes said.

Earlier this year, she approached the Louisa County Board of Supervisors for help with funding, suggesting that ARPA funds could used.

“I believe there’s ongoing funding that’s needed to happen,” she said. “We need to subsidize child care and we need to do it fast.”

Without an infusion of cash and a show of community support, the fate of the center remains uncertain.

Forbes stresses 4Cs can’t make the call to close the center. That decision is up to the center’s board.

“Currently, it’s a community issue whether they’re going to end up closing the center or try to continue it on,” Columbus Community Childcare Center Director Michele Shaffer said. “We, of course, will do everything we can in our power to keep it going.”

Community support could mean funding or helping staff the center.

“The most important thing is to have some qualified staff that are wanting to retain their positions here and are eager to continue training, continue their education and looking for maybe even a lifelong career and working with children,” Shaffer said.

Lana Artz-McComb lives in Washington, Iowa, but works in Louisa County. Her two-year-old son has been attending Columbus Childcare Community Center all his life, in part because no day care centers in Washington had openings when he was a baby.

She likes the format the center uses with classrooms and structured activities, and she wants the teachers working with her son every day to be compensated fairly. She also doesn’t want the center to close.

“Experiencing it firsthand that there are just simply not child care options out there, I’ve gotten involved as soon as we figured out that they needed help,” Artz-McComb said. “We are really trying to be that parent front here in this community to make sure that the city leaders, the Board of Supervisors, the current Columbus Community Childcare Center Board know that the parents are on board, that we’re ready to jump in and support them however they need it, because we want what’s best for our children.”

There will be a “Rural Child Care Community Conversation” on Nov. 10 at 6 p.m. at the Columbus Junction City Hall to address “community-driven solutions” surrounding child care.

“We really want to have some actionable items and some solutions to what child care looks like in this community,” Forbes said. “I’m looking forward to seeing how that really springboards this program. And hopefully, we can keep the success of the center, keep the center open here to support the community.”

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