NEAR WEST SIDE — A 130-year-old childcare agency shut its doors suddenly after funding issues drove some staff members who hadn't been getting paid to stop showing up for work.
After Marcy Newberry did not make three consecutive payrolls, Executive Director Ben Kendrick said he made the decision last Tuesday to close the three childcare centers for good.
Friday was the final day for Marcy Newberry, which had locations in Lawndale, Austin and on the Near West Side, where it also ran a program at a local park.
Since Newberry can no longer provide child care, employees had to work quickly to place children in other area centers. At Pilsen childcare center El Hogar del Niño, 20 Marcy Newberry families are on a waiting list for services, with many more being redirected to Chicago Commons and Gad’s Hill, according to El Hogar Program Director Kim Johnson.
Parent Tangela Hampton's disabled daughter had been receiving care at Marcy Newberry's Fosco Park location at 1312 S. Racine Ave. since September. She said she's not sure what her next steps will be.
“To know that now we have to start all over again somewhere else, it’s kind of devastating to me because now it’s like, I was just getting her used to all the teachers and the children. It’s hard. It’s hard on all of us,” Hampton said.
According to her teachers, 2-year-old Jayli had been thriving in an environment where her entire class learned pieces of sign language in order to better communicate with the little girl.
Wanda Wilson, a 20-year Marcy Newberry teacher who worked at the center’s Fosco Park location, was one of Jayli’s teachers.
Wilson said she and other teachers were not given notice of the center’s closing and instead found out through a letter sent to parents that blamed staff absenteeism as the main reason for the closure.
“It’s a shame. It’s a shame what’s going down. Twenty-plus years and you don’t have the common courtesy to come and tell me that we gonna be closed? They can go suck on a lemon for all I care,” Wilson said.
In September 2011, those same Marcy Newberry teachers voted to join the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and had been working out contract details with administrators.
Kendrick believes the unionization effort had a significant effect on staff morale and directly contributed to the agency’s decision to close.
“From that first day one, [teachers] were rebellious, insensitive and they created a situation where I had no other choice but to close this agency. And that’s a damn shame,” he said.
Brynn Seibert, director of the Child Care and Early Learning Division for SEIU, was unsure why Kendrick placed blame for the closure on the unionization effort, since a contract was never finalized and considering the agency had much larger funding problems.
Kendrick said multiple staff members had stopped coming into work and many were concerned about the discrepancy between Kendrick’s $90,000 annual salary and their own base pay, which for a teacher's assistant could start as low as $15,000 yearly.
But at the time that many teachers stopped coming in, the agency was behind on three payrolls, Kendrick said. While one of those payrolls was met Friday, Kendrick said he was meeting with city officials Monday to try and secure a grant to pay the other two.
Kendrick, who’s worked at the agency for 34 years, said he plans to retire. He said the United Methodist Women, who own the centers at 1073 W. Maxwell St. and 1539 S. Springfield Ave., will ultimately decide those buildings' fate.
Without a union to back her up, 50-year-old Wanda Wilson has been left jobless with no severance pay and no guarantee of seeing her two final paychecks.
“I’ve been in my misery too long. I’m gonna try and get my head together so I can get out of this misery,” Wilson said.