About 80 parents blast Penn State about Bennett Center decision

mmorgan@centredaily.comJune 27, 2013 

— James Howell has two children in the Bennett Family Center on Penn State’s campus because he believes it’s the best care around.

He thinks the facility provides top-notch care, but he is now worried.

Penn State announced Tuesday that it plans to turn management of the facility over to Hildebrandt Learning Centers, of Dallas, Luzerne County, and about 80 parents showed up on campus Wednesday to speak against the move.

At the forefront of the group’s concerns is the employees of the facility will be forced to take an inferior benefits package, which could jeopardize the quality of care for the children.

The teachers are the main reason why Howell speaks so highly of the facility.

“If you take away the Penn State benefits, all the teachers will leave,” he said, adding that it would be disingenuous of the Penn State administration to say otherwise.

The university has said the move will provide better, more stable management, while the child care aspects will be largely unchanged. Hildebrandt already manages Penn State’s larger Hort Woods center, a facility many of the parents agreed is relatively well-run.

But it’s not as good as Bennett, many said.

Parents cited turnover rate concerns due to the lesser benefits package with several teachers having already left or that are planning to leave this summer.

Professor Tom Wood said he has had a child in both facilities and much prefers the quality of care at Bennett, describing the quality at Hort Woods to be “lacking.”

He also complained that the university announced this change without consulting the parents.

“The process is egregious. The way you’re treating the teachers is egregious and the level of care is unacceptable,” Wood said.

College of Health and Human Development Dean Ann Crouter led the meeting to listen to the concerns of the parents and said the deal was not put in place to address care quality concerns, rather to help the operational side.

The contract had not been signed as of Wednesday. University spokeswoman Lisa Powers has said Penn State pays $50,000 for the Hort Woods management, and the Bennett contract would likely be similar.

She said the college can provide great care, but falls short in management quality.

“Management of the operational side is Hildebrandt’s specialty and not ours,” she said.

Crouter hopes that a transition would be as seamless as possible and that the quality of care would not fall off.

After listening to the concerns of the parents, Crouter stood behind the decision to contract with Hildebrandt for management, but said she would do her best to work with them on the benefits issue.

She said two possible ways to increase the quality of the package would be to make the employer contribution more generous and make child service at the center for employees more affordable. Though, she said she is willing to work on that aspect, she can’t guarantee success.

And that won’t be good enough for some.

Many parents, including Howell, said they want nothing else than to see the benefits remain where they are under the Penn State model, saying that the change would be completely about the money.

“We will settle for nothing but a return to the status quo,” he said to a booming round of applause.

Matt Morgan can be reached at 235-3928. Follow him on Twitter @MetroMattMorgan.

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