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Mar 12, 2019 11:53 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

The Southampton Day Care Center Faces An Uncertain Future As Enrollment Declines

Board member Susan Hovdesven and Executive Director Rachel Copt interacting with children at the Southampton Day Care Center. ANISAH ABDULLAH
Mar 14, 2019 4:56 PM

For years, the Southampton Day Care Center was at maximum capacity year-round. Teachers and staff cared for 30 children, five days per week, every week, while others were on a waiting list.

But during the last three winter seasons, weekly enrollment numbers dropped to about half of that, leaving administrators worried about the future of the nonprofit.

The day care center, heavily reliant on enrollment fees to stay afloat, is facing financial struggles as a result of low numbers of children needing care during the offseason six months of the year. Administrators are now looking for additional revenue sources.

Located in Southampton Village, the day care is a nonprofit under contract with the Suffolk County Department of Social Services and licensed through the New York State Office of Child and Family Services.

Southampton resident Kathleen Davis, who died in 2013, founded the center under the name “Fountain of Youth,” in 1986 at the Community Baptist Church of Southampton until it was later moved to its current location on David Whites Lane with a new name in 2001.

The center enrolls children on a weekly basis. Last week, there were 16 children enrolled. There were 22 children at one point this winter, from October to March, as most of them were returning each week. The week of Christmas was exceptionally low—the center was down to eight kids, Executive Director Rachel Copt said.

Last winter, they had 23 total children, and the winter before that, they had 28—a considerable decline from the 38 total children during the 2011-12 winter season.

“We can barely get by. Like, we finished the year at almost zero, and we’re doing it all on our own,” longtime board member Susan Hovdesven said. “We get a little bit of grant money, but very, very little.”

Revenue for 2017 was $242,282, more than $50,000 less than 2016 and about $95,000 less than 2015.

About 90 percent of the day care’s revenue in recent years comes from enrollment fees, while the remainder comes from donor contributions, government grants and fundraising, according to IRS documents. Community members have been generous in supplying donations and volunteering their time over the years, which administrators say they are grateful for, but operational revenue is still needed.

“When the numbers go low, that means it’s really hard to pay bills,” Ms. Copt said. “And we need our teachers here, obviously, so it’s been a challenge in the winter seasons. We want to provide this care for the children, and our community needs it. Our families love coming here.”

They cannot even afford to hire someone to update and maintain the day care’s website, leading them to move to free social media sites like Facebook and Instagram to connect with the community. The website displays revenue breakdowns that have been inaccurate for years.

The day care’s board of directors is currently seeking more funding sources. Ms. Hovdesven asked the Southampton School Board at its last meeting on March 5 for guidance on potentially adding a proposition to the school budget ballot for additional funding, similar to the existing proposition on the ballot for funding for the Southampton Youth Association nonprofit. The proposition money would be a separate tax and not come from the school budget.

“We’re almost at a last resort, of, we’re going to have to ask the public,” Ms. Hovdesven said in a later interview, adding that the chances of the proposition being approved are bleak, in her opinion, if it were to be added to the ballot. “I don’t think we’ll get approved because … people don’t want to see more taxes, you know? They don’t want see more money being spent, and I understand that.”

They are hoping to ask for $75,000 in the proposition, which would go toward need-based scholarships for low-income families—which they believe would increase enrollment—as well as for teacher salaries and an emergency fund, Ms. Hovdesven said. The School Board recommended she reach out to Superintendent of Schools Nicholas Dyno and Assistant Superintendent for Business Jean Mingot for assistance.

In order to add a proposition to the ballot, an applicant must submit a petition to the district clerk 60 days before the election, which would contain a minimum of 40 signatures or 5 percent of those who voted in the previous year’s election, whichever is greater, and the School Board must then approve the submission, according to district policy.

Ms. Hovdesven, a real estate agent for Douglas Elliman in Southampton, ascribed the enrollment decrease to the trend of year-round local families moving to more affordable areas further west. She said part of it may also be due to fewer births in the area in recent years. Data on declining birth rates was presented at the School Board meeting she attended as part of the school district’s enrollment study.

Another stress day care administrators face is the uncertain future of their property. The South Fork Council for Children and Youths had owned the property since 1986 and leased it out to the day care for $1 a year, but that organization no longer exists. They are now trying to figure out who actually owns the land, and whether they will be allowed to remain there. The South Fork Council for Children and Youths is still listed as the current property owner.

The day care center is open 11 hours per day from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. five days a week and accepts children between 20 months old and 5 years old. Most children they care for come from working families able to afford the inexpensive rates, which average at around $250 a week for full-day service.

Staff consists of three teachers, two full-time and one part-time, and one full-time executive director. Volunteers, typically students from local schools, help out during the summer months.

“The day care is a service the community simply cannot live without,” Ms. Hovdesven said.

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I blame it on the cost of living out east. It's becoming a big struggle for new families to make ends meet. I actually just relocated my family to Florida, day care for 2 kids down here combined is 1200 a month 5 days a week. Try 5 days a week in the Hamptons with 2 children, you are looking at 2500-3000 and that's just daycare. Now factor in rent, utilities, food for the table and you are looking at 6-8k a month in Bill's. How can one manage living out east If they aren't pulling in 150-200k a ...more
By JoeproNY (1), Southampton on Mar 14, 19 8:43 AM
JoeproNY I wish you were kidding. It’s getting harder everyday
By bigblue84 (89), Hampton Bays on Mar 14, 19 6:15 PM
U prob woulda been better off staying in Smithtown rather than relocating to Hb
By toes in the water (884), southampton on Mar 15, 19 7:28 AM
They have never target a large Latino community. I think OHL has done well because they have welcome the latino community, Stella Maris and Merci HS had to close for low enrollment..
By Mate (53), Southampton on Mar 16, 19 8:54 AM
School Admin/Day Care? Trade majors path prop? Office staff can double as child care givers when they’re slow in summer and the day care is busier.
By deepchanel (88), Hampton Bays on Mar 16, 19 1:04 PM
I would never have been able to afford daycare that cost $250 per week. That's 1K per month, per kid. So 12K a year. There's the problem. Working people simply can not afford to live on the South Fork, let alone pay child care on top of it.
By InnerBay (72), Southampton on Mar 21, 19 8:15 AM