Community rallies: Barrett Early Learning Center stays open

Less than a week after the Barrett Early Learning Center on Ridge Street announced plans to close after 78 years in business, the community rallied and the child care center that serves a diverse clientele will stay open.

"We're just thrilled," says Kim Lauter, a mother of three children who've attended Barrett and a newly minted board member. A meeting held Tuesday, July 30, was attended by between 50 and 60 people, Lauter says, and by show of hands, those in attendance expressed a unanimous desire to find a way to keep Barrett running.

"People were saying they really didn't want this to happen," Lauter recalls, describing people at the meeting in their 80s who had gone to Barrett as children.

"We made the decision: Let's keep it going," says Lauter, who says it's heartening to see volunteers already hard at work making improvements to the building and grounds. Even with such community support, however, it won't be easy. Among a variety of issues, Lauter cites a need to address one particular problem that led to the Center's decision to shut down: a delay in tuition reimbursement by the state.

Back in September 2011, the Virginia Department of Social Services changed the way child care centers receive reimbursement for low income children in their care. Paperwork filled out by the centers and turned in weekly to the local social services office was replaced by swipe cards to be used at pick-up and drop-off— one per family. But with multiple caregivers, missed swipes were frequent, according to the former president of the Barrett board, pediatrician Carlos Armengol, who is now helping the new board in an advisory capacity. And when swipes are missed, reimbursement is withheld until additional paperwork is provided.

"That has not been solved, and it probably will not be," says Lauter, who says the Center's new interim director, Maria Bell, is meeting with social services to determine, among other things, whether cards can be kept on site to make missed swipes less frequent.

In addition to searching for a permanent director, Lauter says there is discussion about eventually hiring an assistant director to handle the copious paperwork and free the new director to focus on other aspects of high quality child care.

"They could be doing curriculum and a lot of other things rather than sitting in an office trying to get paid," says Lauter. "If the system is not going to change then Barrett needs to find a way to have someone on it all the time.

To that end, Lauter says the new board is working to raise $70,000 to help the Center run smoothly.

"We have to have this buffer that allows us to keep going even if the state is not timely in their payments," she says, noting that the money will also help cover operating costs, repairs to the building, and staffing.

Those interested in donating to Barrett can do so through the website A fundraising luncheon is also being held on Saturday, August 10 at Maya restaurant on West Main with $18 of the $30 price going to the Center.

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1 comment

Has the center made contact with its Delegate representatives and the Governor's office. Is it represented by a State Senator? How are other centers who use "swipe" coping with the problem. Perhaps they ought to seek guidance from CCF.

No, Lauter, you don't hire and executive director to collect bills. That's for a finiancial officer to do. Of course that person would be paid less than the ex. dir.