Ohio State Teachers Retirement System will close on-site child care center

The C. James Grothaus Child Care Center will close on Dec. 31.

By: - September 1, 2023 4:40 am

The entrance to the Ohio State Teachers Retirement System headquarters in Columbus. Photo by Marty Schladen, Ohio Capital Journal.

The Ohio State Teachers Retirement System is closing their on-site child care center — leaving families scrambling. 

After 34 years, the C. James Grothaus Child Care Center is shutting its doors for good on Dec. 31. 

“The decision to close the center is nothing that comes to me easily,” STRS Executive Director Bill Neville said at the end of the Aug. 18 STRS board meeting. “It was not a knee-jerk reaction. … The Grothaus Child Care Center has been a point of contention for us … for about 20 years.” 

In his unprepared remarks during the meeting, he said enrollment at the center was down — especially among STRS associates. 

“In the roughly five years leading up to the COVID pandemic, the center was at times less then 25% STRS associate children,” Neville said. “There were years when the center did run a slight profit, but there also years in which the center ran deficits leading up into the COVID era.” 

The Grothaus Child Care Center, which is licensed for 100 children, currently serves only 35 children. Of that, less than ten are related to STRS associates. The center was mostly populated by children of STRS associates about 20 years ago, he said. 

“We had hoped to continue on-site child care by outsourcing operation of the center to a private provider, but those efforts were not successful,” STRS said in a July 11 email to STRS Ohio child care parents obtained by the OCJ. 

Parents who use the Grothaus Child Care Center are upset by the recent announcement — forcing them to get on long waitlists for other centers. 

“There’s a huge irony to a pension system that protects public educators’ retirement and laying off public educators after so many years of service,” said Rebecah Jones, the mother of two children in the center. 

Teachers at the center who stick around until the end will be eligible for severance — one week of pay for every year of service, Neville said during the board meeting. 

The Grothaus Child Care Center currently has 10 full-time workers and three part-time substitutes on call, said STRS spokesman Dan Minnich. 

Parents reactions

The Jones’ family has used the Grothaus Center for the past two years for their two daughters, a two and a half year old and a 14 month old. 

“I already had to explain to my two and a half year old that she’s not going to see her teacher again,” Jones said. “And you know, a young child doesn’t have that concept.”

She works in Downtown Columbus, so she likes the convenience of being able to drop off her daughters on her way to work. 

“There have been times when my kids have gotten sick and they’ve needed an emergency pickup, and it’s right there,” Jones said. 

The Grothaus Child Care Center is the one of two five star-quality child care centers in Downtown Columbus. The other is Heavenly Kids Center for Learning on Mound Street.

Alex Sealscott’s two-year-old son has been going to the child care center since he was about four months old. Her husband is an STRS associate. 

“Such an important aspect of my husband’s employment at STRS was knowing that the child care center was available to us and having our son just a few floors down from my husband’s office and the comfort in that,” she said. “We were all kind of blindsided, I guess, is the best way to put it.”

Both families are still figuring out what they will do for their child care needs after December. 

“There’s such a child care shortage,” Jones said. “It has been impossible for us to find a center that we’re comfortable with and that has a space for both of our daughters. So the reality that we’re looking at is having two separate drop-offs, two separate centers for our two children.”

In the email to the parents, it said Bright Horizons “expressed a desire to accept the children currently enrolled in our center, and to interview our teachers for employment.” Bright Horizons Downtown Columbus location has a one-star Step Up To Quality ranking

But when Jones reached out to Bright Horizons, she said they only had one spot for her youngest daughter’s age group.

“There’s about 12 students who are in that age range at STRS,” she said. 

Sealscott and her husband have toured about 20 child care centers in the past several weeks and are now on the waitlists, but some of the the waitlists are more than a year long. 

“We have no idea when we’ll be getting in,” she said. 

Grothaus Child Care Center

The center lost an excess of $200,000 a year during the COVID-19 pandemic, Neville said. Like many child care centers, enrollment was down and the center was closed during part of the pandemic. 

The center’s tuition varies, depending on age and days of care needed.

  • The weekly rate for a full-time infant is $365, a toddler is $343 and preschooler is $305.
  • The three-day rate for infant is $248, a toddler is $238 and a preschooler is $216.
  • The two-day rate for an infant is $174, a toddler is $166 and a preschooler is $152.

In Franklin County, the 2023 estimated median yearly price of infant-based child care was $14,996, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s National Database of Childcare prices.

About 10% of children under five have had a family member change jobs because of an issue with child care in the last 12 months, according to a January report from Groundwork Ohio, a non-partisan policy research and advocacy group.

Recent polling by the national advocacy group First Five Years shows 93% of Ohio voters who participated in the poll “believe it is important for working parents of young children to be able to find and afford quality child care programs.”

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Megan Henry
Megan Henry

Megan Henry is a reporter for the Ohio Capital Journal and has spent the past five years reporting in Ohio on various topics including education, healthcare, business and crime. She previously worked at The Columbus Dispatch, part of the USA Today Network.