The Director for the Every Child Has Opportunity (ECHO) Charter School, Helen Blue-Redner, was present at the Yellow Medicine County Board of Commissioners meeting on Tuesday, April 10 to request financial assistance for the new child care center currently under development at the school.

Blue-Redner informed the Board that ‘Bottle Rockets’ Child Care service was close to opening. The service’s policies had already been approved by the Department of Human Services, and the center is awaiting final inspection before it will be allowed to open.

The request from ECHO is similar to a donation made by the county several months ago to the Clarkfield Area Charter School (CACS). That donation amounted to $25,000, which is also what Blue-Redner was asking for, though she said they would accept any amount.

According to Blue-Redner, the school has already received a $60,000 donation from the Upper Sioux Community, and she is following up with the Southwest Initiative Foundation and the McKnight Foundation to acquire additional funds. Once open, Bottle Rockets will serve approximately 35 children, and there are already plans to expand infant care services in the future.

Commissioner John Berends thanked ECHO for working to provided a much needed service, but said he was concerned with proceeding with any financial contribution without a “comprehensive plan” for child care. He pointed out that Yellow Medicine already turned down a funding request last year from the Granite Falls EDA for a child care service, and urged the Board to develop a “fair approach” before proceeding with future contributions.

Berends also said he hesitated to provide money to a new entity at the expense of existing private providers. Blue-Redner clarified that ECHO was a non-profit and was providing a service that wasn’t currently being met in the area. Nevertheless, Berends’ comments were echoed by other board members.

Board Chair Ron Antony said that when CACS came to request money, they already had “money from other sources,” including from current daycare providers. Commissioner Gary Johnson also added that the donation to CACS was to help them with construction costs for their new child care facility, and was not a contribution to their operational costs.

“I’m not closing the door and saying no,” Johnson said. He recommended that the Board create a committee to take a closer look at the issue and follow up with Berends’ proposal to develop a comprehensive and fair approach to the issue.

Several commissioners seemed to express regret at how the CACS donation was handled. “Maybe we should have tabled the Clarkfield request,” said Johnson. Antony agreed, saying “we approached this way too fast. We’re backpedaling, to be honest.”

Two motions (one to table the request from ECHO and another to create a committee to further explore the issue) passed unanimously. According to Blue-Redner, Bottle Rockets will have sufficient funds to get started, but she stressed the vital importance of those initial start-up costs during the first year of operations.

There is a budget shortfall projected for the first year, but with outside donations and grant money still unknown, the financial picture has the potential to change drastically before opening day.

The Board thanked the ECHO staff for their work in tackling the child care crisis, and offered them a position on the new committee. School Board member Debbie Eakes accepted the invitation, saying that she looked forward to discussing the issue further.