Need Child Care In Traverse City? Enroll Before Baby's Born.
By Craig Manning | Sept. 5, 2021
“We joke about it with parents: If you go out on a hot date, you should probably call and put your name on a [daycare] waitlist.”
That’s the (sarcastic) advice of Beth Fryer, who owns and operates a trio of childcare centers in Traverse City, under the name of Teddy Bear Daycare & Preschool. Yet there’s truth behind the jest. Her daughter-in-law and business partner, Anna Fryer, says the best bet most Traverse City parents have of getting their infant children into childcare is to join waitlists the day they start trying to conceive.
There are legislative efforts underway to open new doors for childcare in Michigan, but daycare and preschool slots in Traverse City remain in short supply. The Ticker caught up with four daycare centers and preschools to hear the latest on capacity, waitlists, costs, and potential expansion.
· Teddy Bear Daycare: Teddy Bear has three locations in Traverse City. The original location, on Bass Lake Road, has a capacity of 20 children. The second, on 14th Street, is licensed for 74 kids. And the third, on Long Lake Road, is capped at 51. Following some recent schedule changes, Anna Fryer says Teddy Bear has “a couple part-time openings” across its locations, but that those will be filled from the business’s extensive waitlist.
· Angel Care Preschool & Daycare: According to Executive Director Karin Cooney, Angel Care is licensed for 44 students – including 24 preschoolers, 12 toddlers, and eight infants. “Enrolled currently are four infants, 11 toddlers, and 16 preschoolers,” she says. While Angel Care’s license technically allows for 13 more slots than are filled, Cooney tells The Ticker those spots are not currently open due to staffing shortages: “We are not able to fully enroll, as we do not have enough staff to operate all of the rooms at full capacity.”
· Central Day Care Center: Per Program Director Corrine Nagel, Central Day Care Center is licensed to provide care to 74 children a day. That number breaks down to eight infants, 12 young toddlers, 12 older toddlers, 16 preschoolers (3-4-year-olds), and 24 pre-K children (4-5-year-olds). Central is mostly full at the moment, but the center does have some spots in the 3-4 age range.
· Old Mission Peninsula School: The Old Mission Peninsula School (OMPS) started its own preschool program last year after an on-site childcare location managed by Angel Care closed down due to staffing shortages. Leah Derris, who serves as the program’s director and lead teacher, says the OMPS preschool classroom has a total allowable capacity of 20 students.
· Teddy Bear: “We have over 200 children on the waitlist,” Fryer says. “About 90 percent of them are between the ages of zero and two-and-a-half.” She notes that preschool offerings at Traverse City Area Public Schools (TCAPS) have helped take the pressure off local daycare centers for slightly older kids, but that Traverse City still has a big shortage in the infant care category. Exacerbating the issue is the fact that only two of Teddy Bear’s three locations are licensed to accept infants. “Right now, for an infant, if parents were to call us today, [the child] likely won't be in our system until after they’re two-and-a-half, which is preschool,” she says. Therein lies the benefit of couples calling when they are trying to conceive: By the time a child is born, Fryer says, most of the kids on Teddy Bear’s infant waitlist won’t be infants anymore.
· Angel Care: “Our waiting list is quite extensive,” Cooney says. “But one must be cautious when estimating need [for childcare] from waitlists. Parents usually sign up on every waitlist in town, hoping against all odds that they will have a spot.”
· Central: While Central Day Care has some open spots in its preschool and pre-K rooms, Nagel notes the center does have a significant waitlist for younger age groups.
· OMPS: Derris says the OMPS preschool class has a small waitlist for the current school year (with “about five students on it”) and a longer one for the 2022-2023 school year (with 10 students).
One thing these local daycare centers aren’t doing at the moment? Embracing the nationwide trend of waitlist fees. While Teddy Bear, Angel Care, and Central Day Care all have registration or enrollment fees – which parents need to pay to hold a slot when it opens up – none require families to pay a fee to join their waitlists.
· Teddy Bear: Daily tuition rates are $67 for infants, $62 for toddlers, and $52 for preschool-aged kids.
· Angel Care: Angel Care’s fees “remain at pre-pandemic prices,” according to Cooney. Weekly rates for full-time care (Monday through Friday) are $225 for preschool students, $290 for toddlers, and $300 for infants.
· Central: Rates at Central Day Care range from $48 to $61 per day, depending on the child’s age and the number of days they are enrolled. Similar to other centers, Central’s rates are highest for infants and lowest for preschool kids.
· OMPS: Preschool rates at OMPS are $38 per day for full-time students (five days per week) and $40 per day for part-time students (2-3 days per week).
· Teddy Bear: Teddy Bay Daycare has expanded twice in the past five years, launching its 14th Street location in 2017 and Long Lake in 2018. Fryer says the company has “enough administrative staff” and a system that is well oiled enough (including a software called Brightwheel, which streamlines waitlist management) to continue adding additional centers. “If there was a business that wanted to partner with us, or if there was grant funding available for startup costs, I think there would be potential for us to open a smaller center,” Fryer says. Any expansion would likely focus on the underserved 0-3 age bracket.
· Angel Care: Due to staffing shortages, Angel Care has largely contracted in the past 18 months. In February 2020, Angel Care decided to close its OMPS site because of staffing – a closure initially scheduled for June of last year, but hastened by the pandemic. Now the center is operating both below capacity and with slightly shortened hours due to short-staffing. Cooney says the only option for hiring more people is to pay them more – something she doubts centers like Angel Care can do without a significant change throughout the industry. “Our hope is that childcare worker compensation soon will align with the credentials being asked of them,” she says. “If that happens, we will have a much better shot at attracting and retaining a qualified staff – and, possibly, a full staff, which would permit us to enroll 11-13 more children.”
· Central: Nagel credits an “amazing staff… that has been with us for awhile” for allowing Central Day Care to continue operating without reducing numbers. She notes that the organization even had the bandwidth this summer to host a summer camp for school-age children. However, she also acknowledges that finding new employees “has been an issue,” and does not indicate any future plans for expansion.
· OMPS: While the OMPS preschool class capacity is 20 students, it is considered full at 18 students enrolled. That’s due to some regulatory technicalities around student ages and student-to-teacher ratios. “Due to ratio purposes, we are unable to enroll the last two spots available until all of the students are over the age of three,” Derris explains.Comment