By JUSTINE WINNIE
Washington State Federation of State Employees. AFSCME Council 28
EVERETT (March 21, 2022) — Solidarity between staff, community members, students and elected officials pushed Everett Community College (EvCC) to scrap plans to close the award-winning Early Learning Center (ELC).
Under considerable pressure from parents and families who attend the center, staff, and union members, EvCC accepted a funding package from Snohomish County this week securing the ELC’s funding for the next year.
In the months since ELC administrators shocked parents and employees with a hasty announcement of the center’s imminent closure, staff have worried not only about their own job security but about the future of the families they serve.
“We love what we do so much,” said Alejandra Wood, an ELC social work assistant whose role is to support families. “It felt sad that this could end for families, not knowing what could come next for them as far as options. What else is there for families?”
Wood has been with the center for eight years and is a WFSE Local 1020 member.
“We’re a tight knit community,” she said. “The relationships we’ve built between staff and the families that attend here are a strong bond.”
Families and fellow WFSE members joined staff in the fight for the future of the ELC. Supporters sent over 500 letters to EvCC leadership. Many came together to rally at an EvCC Board of Trustees meeting. Children and their parents decorated the ELC with handmade signs.
The ELC is among just 10 percent of early education programs to receive accreditation by the National Association for the Education of Young Children. Staff are multilingual and many have degrees in early childhood education.
The center’s holistic programming includes specialized nutritional support, developmental screenings and violence prevention education. Dedicated staff like Wood work directly with parents to bridge the gap between home and school, helping parents set goals for their families and learn parenting skills.
The program serves families in the broader Everett community. Many parents are students at EvCC working to better their families’ lives. Low-income families are able to access care through the state-funded Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP).
After months of concerted coalition effort, EvCC accepted a funding offer from Snohomish County.
The funding package guarantees $200,000 to secure the ELC’s budget for the next year. College leadership say they will work to preserve the center in following years.
“We are grateful for Snohomish County’s investment in our youngest learners and for the county’s ongoing support for our outstanding Early Learning Center staff,” said Interim President Darrell L. Cain in a release from EvCC.
The good news was a welcome end to months of uncertainty and stress.
“I’m super relieved,” Wood said. “I don’t think people knew the level of support our center has in the community because of the work we do.”
Long staff tenures like Wood’s are the norm at the ELC. Gay North, also a member of WFSE Local 1020, has been a cook at the ELC for the past 21 years.
“We came together as a community and a union for this fight,” she said. “Together we were empowered to save the ELC.”
Local and national efforts hope to bolster childcare centers by improving compensation for employees.
At Tacoma Community College, WFSE members at the Early Learning Center recently received a Department of Children, Youth & Families (DCYF) Child Care Stabilization Grant intended to ameliorate staffing issues by increasing pay and retention incentives.
As more and more childcare facilities shutter their doors across the country, citing inability to recruit and retain qualified staff, AFSCME is at the forefront of the fight to improve wages for workers and access for families.
Alejandra Wood urges fellow public employees to consider union membership.
“The support has been amazing. We appreciate so much what we have done with our union in our time of need,” Wood said.
Union membership is about speaking up for our jobs, families and communities. Learn more about joining here.
This report was originally posted at the WFSE/AFSCME Council 28 website and is published here with the author’s permission.