Calvary Episcopal Church Day School closes after more than 90 years in Charleston
Theresa McPhail picked up her 4-year-old granddaughter, Alexis Brown, from Calvary Episcopal Church Day School for the last time on Friday.
The downtown preschool is closing after a more than 90-year run, and it’s a loss for many in this upper King Street community, who say it gave children a better start and a better future.
“We’re really disappointed,” McPhail said. “It’s been going for such a long time. (Alexis) really learns a lot here that she doesn’t get at home. I’m proud of her.”
At least half of the preschool’s children were low-income, and their families relied on state assistance to cover tuition. Preschool Director Helen Freeman said a state-imposed change has made it impossible for the center to continue operating, but state officials disagreed.
The state made a change in April 2011 to its ABC Child Care Program, which pays for low-income children to attend child-care centers so their parents can work or further their education.
Rising costs forced the state to make cuts to the program, so it started paying for part-time care for some families while it previously had covered full-time care for them, said Leigh Bolick, director of childcare services for the state Department of Social Services. The state opted to do that instead of cutting the number of children served, she said.
Calvary charged tuition of $110 per week, and the voucher previously covered most of it, Freeman said. The change meant the voucher covered less of that tuition, and some parents didn’t have the money to make up the difference, she said. Enrollment dropped, and the previously self-sustaining center started relying on the church for support, she said.
By July, the church no longer could afford to give money to the preschool, and officials made the difficult decision to shutter it. Freeman said she was aware of at least three other preschools downtown that have suffered the same fate for the same reason.
Bolick said she was unaware of any preschool that had closed as a result of the state changing the way it distributed funds to parents, and the payments to Calvary only had decreased by about 1 percent during the two most recent school years.
“We know that there is a small profit margin, and that these centers are doing everything they can to offer great care,” she said. “We hate to hear of a good resource going away. It’s a shame.”
Tricia Sheldon, president of the board of directors for the state Child Care Association, said she knew of at least two other childcare facilities, one of which was in Summerville, that had closed because of the state’s change.
“Families can’t afford to pay that difference, and the schools can’t afford to take care of the children at half price,” she said. “It’s unfortunate.”
She said the association advocates for the voucher money only to be distributed among licensed centers; those that don’t have licenses can receive the same funds.
Calvary Day School had served about 40 children from ages 2 to 5 in recent years at its center on Line Street, but its enrollment had dropped in half in recent months. The school’s last day was Friday, and none of its six employees knew where they would work next.
None were eligible for unemployment, either, because the church hadn’t contributed to that fund, Freeman said.
“We’re in a situation that’s just awful,” she said. “I have a senior in high school, and I don’t know what I’m going to do.”
Wilhelmina Frasier attended the day school as a child and returned to teach and direct there for about 40 years. She’s been a member of its church her entire life, and she was present for the preschool’s last day.
“You have to remember things change, and you have to adapt,” she said.
Reach Diette Courrégé at @Diette on Twitter or 937-5546.