OCC Desperate to Hire Teachers
This morning, the parents of Ocracoke Child Care's four enrolled students were given notice that the center could close as early as May 5th.
Financial struggles have plagued the center in recent years, but that's not the problem now.
The center is solvent and there are 18 children on the center's waiting list, but no teachers to staff the classrooms.
"I'm still hopeful," said OCC director DeAnna Locke, who was hired a year ago. "But we're desperate for teachers. We're in a dire situation because of our teacher shortage."
DeAnna has been actively reaching out to the community (read: begging) and trying to hire teachers and substitutes for the 5-star licensed daycare facility that was built by and for the Ocracoke community in 1998.
"Money hasn't been an issue for awhile," DeAnna explained. "We were in a huge hole, and dug ourselves out. We've worked really hard and come so far."
In August, the OCC volunteer board "made two courageous decisions," DeAnna said. "We lowered rates to be more affordable, and made a commitment to stay open even if we only had one child enrolled. We ended up with 8 children – it was a great winter, except we were understaffed."
With only one full-time teacher at the center all fall and winter, DeAnna was always in the second classroom teaching full-time herself. She would then begin her administration duties after the children left for the day. OCC board members and some substitutes and volunteers made it possible for DeAnna and the other teacher to have bathroom and lunch breaks.
The OCC board (Amy Srail Johnson, Teresa O'Neal, Bob Kremser, and Connie Leinbach) decided to close one classroom as of March 31st. The board had decided to close if they didn't hire at least one additional full-time teacher by May 19th. And then, even more bad news came: the one full-time teacher (besides DeAnna) gave her resignation last week and will leave the center on April 21st.
Unless some qualified teachers step up to the plate, DeAnna expects to be the only full-time classroom teacher between April 21st and the possible closing date of May 5th.
DeAnna also explained that closing the center would cause its licensure to be terminated. Although OCC closed temporarily (going "inactive") for two winters due to financial constraints, that option is no longer available.
"At the time OCC closed for two winters and got inactive status, they had to lobby for that, and because of the seasonal mode of Ocracoke's need for childcare, they were able to get permission," DeAnna said. "That's a very different situation from closing when parents are going back to work and we have eighteen children on our waiting list."
The licensing consultant that DeAnna talked to last week made it clear that OCC's license would be terminated upon closing. Starting from scratch to re-open and get a new license is a lot of work (read: understatement), and once the center forfeits its subsidies, it might not get that funding again. Closing OCC this time won't be temporary.
"It's a horrible inconvenience to our parents to close the center, and it would be a great loss to our community," DeAnna said.
Despite OCC's important contribution to the local economy by providing childcare for island workers, and the obvious perks of working with the island's littlest young'uns (hugs, smiles, pat-a-cake, finger-painting, naptime), the center has been chronically understaffed over the past year.
Hiring teachers for OCC is time-consuming and expensive. Each staff member and volunteer must have a TB test and a background check before they can interact with children. OCC pays for these requirements, and often counts that expense as a total loss. DeAnna showed me a list of several potential employees who had gotten the TB test and background check (which takes about a month), and then changed their minds about working at OCC. DeAnna hired two people who just didn't show up on their first scheduled days. She corresponds with off-island dreamers who can't quite make the move to the island.
To make matters more difficult, effective July 1st, hiring requirements for daycare centers will get more stringent and expensive.
"Beginning July 1st, before you can set foot in a classroom, whether you're a sub or a volunteer or a teacher, you'll need the TB test, the background check, current CPR and First Aid certification, current Safe Sleep certification, and twenty hours of online health and safety training classes," DeAnna said, adding, "Oh, and you have to do the usual continuing education after you get started."
Staffing the center is only going to get more difficult.
"I've never used this phrase until now, but it's cutting us off at the knees," DeAnna said. "If it's hard to hire someone before these requirements, it can only get worse. And it will cost several hundred dollars of training and classes for each applicant."
On April 4th, the Ocracoke Occupancy Tax board awarded OCC $5000 for the 2017-18 fiscal year. Most of that money – $3500 – is alloted for the extra expense of hiring teachers. The balance – $1500 – is for improvements to the playground.
DeAnna and the OCC board made the OT requests knowing that the center may not even make it to the next fiscal year. (In which case, the money will revert to the OT coffers.)
"I had to ask for the OT money, I had to keep that hope," DeAnna said. "We've worked so hard to get parents to trust us again, and they want to send their children here. I really hope something can happen, but I don't see how it can."
Saving Ocracoke Child Care would have to start yesterday. With less than a month to the drop-dead date, anyone who wants to apply for a job needs to start the background check process ASAP. Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller? As the Lorax would say, "Unless someone like you care a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better, it's not."
Interested? The pay's not bad for year-round work. (Call DeAnna, she'll tell you about it!) Subbing pays $12 an hour or $96 for a full day (7:30am–3:30pm), which is, she points out, more than Ocracoke School pays.
Full-Time and Part-Time Teacher Positions Available. Work with us and enjoy days full of laughter and hugs! Stop by OCC for an application or call DeAnna at 252-928-4131