Kurk Kramer, EDA Coordinator said, “We had no advance warning that things weren’t going well.”

Last Monday, the staff at The Learning Tree childcare center, located in Tri-Valley Opportunity Council’s migrant school facility, were abruptly told that Tri-Valley would close the center in mid-December, citing a financial strain. The parents were surprised with the same information the next day.

Twenty-eight children currently receive care at The Learning Tree, and more have reserved future spots. Now, parents are scrambling for a solution, with childcare options sorely lacking in the area.

Kurk Kramer, EDA Coordinator for the City of Sleepy Eye, said he was also informed in an email on Monday. “We had no advance warning that things weren’t going well,” said Kramer. “They didn’t reach out to see if there was a way to work together to save the center.”

Just opened just this past March, with $30,000 from the EDA to match a grant from the state Department of Employment and Economic Development as seed money, the center was slow to fill with children. Apparently those early operating losses led to Tri-Valley’s decision. The EDA and City have no other involvement with the center explained Kramer.

Jason Carlson, CEO of Tri-Valley responded to a request for information on the abrupt closing announcement: “The reason Tri-Valley made the difficult decision to close Learning Tree childcare center was purely financial. The center has not been generating enough revenue to cover expenses on a monthly basis. . . . [this] puts Tri-Valley’s overall finances in a bad situation as we have no ready source to replace lost funds.” Carlson said he feels terrible about the impact on the families. He had also expressed surprise to Kramer that the staff and city were unaware of the financial difficulties, and had no idea closure was being considered.

On Tuesday, Nov. 28, at the regular monthly EDA meeting, a group of affected parents and several staff members met with the EDA to discuss the situation and try to find out if there could be a solution. Erika Todd, a teacher at the center, would like to operate the center as a private business in its current location. As she explained to the EDA, she would have to go through the licensing process, which takes at least six months. She is hoping to convince Tri-Valley to continue until she can get licensed.

The situation is urgent for parents, stressed Misty Riebel, who’s children receive care at the center. “We are looking at two and a half weeks,” said Riebel. “What are we going to do? I checked in New Ulm and there are no openings there either.”

Kramer and City Manager Mark Kober gave Todd some information about agencies that might have gap funding available. They asked her to set up a meeting with Carlson of Tri-Valley as soon as possible, so they could all work together to seek a solution that would prevent the center from closing next month.