OCC Buys Time With Lease Agreement

Updated 13 weeks ago Sundae Horn
OCC Buys Time With Lease Agreement

Ocracoke Child Care's board hopes to re-open the daycare center in 2019. 

The next OCC board meeting is this evening at 7pm at the Methodist Church, in the adult Sunday School room. It's open to the public and all are invited to give feedback and suggest ways the board can meet its goal of providing high-quality childcare to Ocracoke families.

I attended the February 12th board meeting, which took place after a February 1st press release announcing that the OCC board had voted to lease the building for one year to a local business owner. This news was met with some shock and dismay on the island, conveyed to the Current through the coconut telegraph (a.k.a. Facebook) and an open letter to the community posted on February 7th.

Here's the scoop: OCC has no more money in the bank, and the building (which is paid for completely) still has expenses (insurance, utilities, etc.) even when it's not open. 

Leasing the building for $1200 a month and shifting the utilities onto the lessee allows OCC to "tread water for year," explained treasurer Bob Kremser. The goal is to hire a new administrator in early 2019 and open the center for students in May next year. 

"We're not ready to give up on it being a daycare," said board member Krystine Hadley, who is also the lessee, and will use the building as a warehouse. "We're buying time. I'm going to protect the OCC property at all costs and give it back a year from now. This board isn't willing to throw in the towel." As a board member, Krystine is responsible for bringing the building back up to code.

"It would be easy to walk away," said Leslie Monticone, another board member, who formerly served as OCC board president in the early aughts. "Our board absolutely wants to re-open as a child care, but all of this can only be accomplished if we know what the community wants or need."

"With more children on the island than we've ever had, how can there not be a need for daycare?" asked board member Doreen Robinson, who taught at the center in its formative years. 

As with many decisive actions on Ocracoke, leasing the daycare caused some controversy. 

The complaints boil down to: 1. It's a conflict of interest – a board member is also the lessee; 2. The building should have been offered to other non-profits or community organizations to use instead leasing it to a private business; and 3. There should have been a public forum to discuss all these options before Ocracoke residents found out about the lease from the letter on the Current. (A few others complained that a non-profit was making money, but that is easily dismissible because any non-profit can make money, it just has to put the profits back into the organization's coffers.)

I took these community concerns to the OCC board meeting. Of course all the board members knew of the grumbling, though no one reported having direct conversation with anyone about it. It's easier to type an accusatory Facebook comment than to call someone up and ask a question. (Try texting! It's the middle ground.) The OCC board specifically welcomed naysayers to attend the board meeting and ask their questions in person. Besides board members, only three of us showed up. Yours truly, as the press, and the other two in solidarity with the board.

I got answers from the board:

1. Krystine recused herself from the vote on the lease. Was she in a position to know the lease was a possibility because of her position on the board? Yes, but anyone can attend board meetings or ask board members about use of the building. 

"It's been closed for months, and no one ever approached us," said Leslie. "We've been asking for feedback and suggestions."

2. OCC board members discussed the lease option with at least two other organizations.

"I approached a board member of Ocracoke Youth Center," explained Tyke Ely, who is also back on the OCC board after serving a decade or so ago. "They are already renting the Village Thrift building. The board member I talked to said he would take it up with the board, but I never heard back."

"I went to Ocracoke Alive and talked to [executive director] David Tweedie," Krystine said. OCC realized that other non-profits weren't interested in a 1-year lease, she explained. "We didn't want somebody to take it over for good. Our board wants to get the building back next year."

3. "Those are valid comments – that we didn't go to the community when we did this," said Doreen. She voted against the lease, and feels the board is stuck with the lease for a year. "Daycare can't open before 2019 even if all the stars align," she said.

But the motion to lease the building was carried and now the OCC board is ready to move forward. They welcome suggestions about how to get the center up and running again after January 30, 2019. 

All that said, it was time for the OCC board to get to work. Answering my questions and addressing the controversy was a mere bump in the road for the evening's ride. It may be the longer part of this article, but it was the shortest part of the meeting.

Board president Mandi Cochran (formerly an OCC teacher and director), had high hopes for the gathering. She planned to craft an AIM statement to get the board working toward the future. 

After much discussion, the board agreed to state: "We aim to re-open Ocracoke Child Care as a sustainable early education childcare center, beginning in twelve months on February 1, 2019. The process begins with community input, creating committees, writing a business plan, and finding our funding stream. The process ends with the center being open, fully staffed, with students attending a community-centered child education program. By working on this process, we expect to gain a knowledge of the community's needs, get community input and support, and raise money. It is important to work on this now because it's a big job that requires a lot of money and planning, and if we don't do it now, it won't get done."

Committees were formed for Communications, Funding/Finance, Community & Recruitment, and Planning. Each committee was charged with getting together before the March 13th board meeting so they can report on committee activity. Non-board members are welcome to join committees! Want to help? They'll take you!

Mary Bryant resigned at the February 12th meeting, and there was some discussion about whom to ask to replace her. All agreed a parent of young children would be a good choice, as someone who has "skin in the game." Leslie Monticone informed me yesterday that Rebecca Jones Trejo has agreed to sign on. (None of the other board members have daycare aged kids.)

The OCC board is: Mandi Cochran, chair; Tyke Ely, vice-chair; Bob Kremser, treasurer; Leslie Monticone, secretary; Claire Senseney; Celeste Brooks; Doreen Robinson; Krystine Hadley; and Rebecca Jones Trejo. (All but Bob have joined the OCC board since May 2017.) Email them at ocracokechildcare@gmail.com

Correction: This story originally quoted Doreen Robinson as saying "The building is closed. We will be bankrupt in March. We have to pay insurance, utilities, winterizing costs. It's owned by OCC, Inc., and we felt it was best to lease it for a year so we can try to re-open." Those comments were erroneously attributed to Doreen. She was, in fact, the only board member to cast a "nay" vote on the lease agreement with Krystine Hadley. 

 

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