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Kids' World, and its hundreds of child care slots, to stay open amid acquisition talks

Bellingham Herald - 12/30/2019

Dec. 30--Kids' World will remain open as negotiations continue for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Whatcom County to take over its 532 licensed child care slots.

The child care business has six facilities on four campuses in Bellingham and Ferndale. They serve hundreds of families and make up 15% of all of the licensed child care spots in Whatcom County.

Michael Watters, co-owner of Kids' World, who originally indicated he would close his facilities at the end of 2019 if another entity didn't take it over, has been negotiating with the nonprofit Boys and Girls Clubs to acquire the business.

"Michael has been very gracious and has agreed that as long as we are making rapid progress that he will continue to operate the day cares," Heather Powell, CEO for Boys and Girls Clubs of Whatcom County, told The Bellingham Herald on Friday, Dec. 27.

"He does expect that as soon as all of the pieces can come together, including licensing, that we will take over," Powell said. "I would expect that acquisition to happen during the first quarter of 2020."

The nonprofit has sought help with funding to defray the initial costs of taking over. It also is working to obtain state licensing and reach a lease agreement, Powell said in a previous Bellingham Herald article.

About 61% of the slots at Kids' World receive state subsidies that help low-income families pay for child care.

Kids' World, which is the county's largest child care provider, employs 110 people, according to details from a city of Bellingham memo.

In terms of funding, the Bellingham City Council agreed in December to provide $100,000, saying the possible loss of the 532 licensed child care spots constituted an emergency.

The Whatcom County Council has agreed to take up the matter in early January when it likely will decide on a request for money.

Powell said the Boys and Girls Clubs was continuing to work on securing the working capital needed to move forward.

"We still believe these spots are really critical to be maintained," Powell said. "We believe this to be a community issue and it's not just the city or the county that can support this."

She added: "If there are businesses and individuals who believe that it's a benefit to retain these spots and want to be sure that Whatcom County remains viable because there is child care, a viable place to live and work" then contact her and talk about how they can help the nonprofit in moving forward.

Meanwhile, the Washington State Department of Children, Youth and Families, which oversees child care licensing, said in a release on Friday that it would "do everything it can to facilitate the transition and allow the sites to open under new licenses."

In previous stories in The Bellingham Herald, Watters and other licensed child care providers have said they face challenges that include a complex and increasingly strict regulatory system, sizable investments to open, employee benefits, increases in the state's minimum wage and state reimbursement rates for subsidies that don't cover the actual costs of providing child care.

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