Astoria city leaders are planning to get out of the childcare business.
At a work session Wednesday afternoon, city councilors said they couldn’t support continuing with the city’s Sprouts Learning Center daycare.
The daycare center, one of the larger facilities in Clatsop County, is run through the Astoria Parks and Recreation Department, serves 21 families — around 23 children. It is one of the few daycares on the North Coast to offer care for very young children.
But it operates at a significant financial loss and, like many childcare facilities across the nation, has struggled to recruit and retain necessary staff. The center has been running with a skeleton crew for months now, with staff decisions made hour by hour, said Jonah Dart-Mclean, director of the parks and recreation department.
The city had hoped to partner with a private organization to continue to provide childcare — without success. The only group that stepped forward, a nonprofit that formed late last year with the intent of taking over operations at Sprouts, backed out in January, saying they couldn’t make it work financially.
Dart-Mclean says the cost and manpower required to keep Sprouts Learning Center open diverts resources that could go to other programs that are important to the community: youth and community programs and the Astoria Aquatic Center.
Mayor Bruce Jones feels adequate childcare is key to a healthy community and a thriving local economy. Still, he regretfully pushed to end the service.
“It pains me to say this now, but I think we’re at that point where it’s unsustainable for the city to continue to provide the service,” he said, “especially when this important service is coming at the expense of other, equally or more important community health programs, especially those for our youth that would benefit so many more people.”
It is a terrible choice to have to make, he added, “But I don’t see any way out of it.”
Other councilors said there needs to be a bigger solution to the childcare crisis — a state or federal solution. A local solution can’t just rest on the city of Astoria.
The city council has yet to formally vote on a decision to close the daycare — that will happen at a future city council meeting — but they expect to close Sprouts Learning Center at the end of the city’s fiscal year on June 30.
“While this is a tough choice to make, this will allow our department to increase its reach to more people throughout Astoria and the surrounding areas,” Dart-Mclean wrote in a letter to parents following the council work session.
The city plans to remain involved in discussions about how to facilitate more childcare options in Astoria and the North Coast in general. Dart-Mclean sits on the Clatsop County childcare advisory board.