By Katy Savage
The Woodstock Economic Development Commission (EDC) unanimously awarded a new childcare center a $94,000 grant on Thursday, April 6, despite complaints and an anonymous letter of concern from parents.
EDC chair Jon Spector and other members said the issues in the community haven’t influenced the EDC’s decision.
“In my view that criteria (for awarding the grant) have been met,” he said.
The new facility, called The Mill School, will serve up to 17 children, ages 6 weeks to 3 years old in East Woodstock.
Spector said recent survey results show a drastic need for childcare, with as many as 50 families in need, despite the EDC’s recent grant approval of $330,000 to area childcare centers for expansion.
“There is clear demand for these 17 spaces,” Spector said at the meeting, adding, “Those issues taking place in the community … they’re unfortunate. I’ve talked to people on both sides of those issues. I think mostly what people want is to have these issues not discussed in public.”
Woodstock parents submitted an anonymous letter to the EDC on March 30, alleging leaders of The Mill School have disparaged area childcare centers and caused disruption in care.
Caroline Olsen, the owner of The Mill School, filed complaints with the state in 2021, alleging Rainbow did not follow protocol for her child, who had a sesame seed and garlic allergy, according to documents obtained in a public records request.
Olsen told state investigators more than once that she wanted the executive director of the Rainbow School fired, according to documents. The complaints led to an investigation and a citation. The state investigation found no wrongdoing pertaining to Olsen’s child allergy, according to documents, but Rainbow was cited for operating out of staff-to-child ratio.
Olsen’s complaints caused a rift, according to parents in the anonymous letter.
“Now more than a year later, TMS promoters and prospective employees continue to publicly disparage Rainbow verbally and in writing and have pursued multiple regulatory complaints, all thus far resolved in Rainbow’s favor,” the parents wrote in the letter.
“We are concerned the EDC may be working at cross-purposes against itself by funding The Mill School,” the parents continued.
The parents urged the EDC to refrain The Mill School from “taking actions contrary to the EDC’s mission, including efforts to undermine other area child care centers.”
No parents publicly spoke about the issue at the meeting. EDC members highlighted the need for care.
EDC member Todd Ulman said more childcare in the area could help the town grow.
“Personal beliefs have to be set aside because it doesn’t help a family with a child that can’t find care,” Ulman said. “People will come to Woodstock because they know they can get the care that they’ll need to raise their family and be successful in their careers dn home life.”
EDC members will distribute funding to The Mill School in thirds. The first third will be awarded when the childcare facility is serving six kids. The second third will when serving 12 and one third when serving 17. The funding is also dependent on The Mill School receiving a license from the state and hiring an executive director that meets state qualifications.
“I know all of you that are involved in childcare are well intentioned,” Spector said. “I hope you can either work out your disagreements or … you can’t discuss them more privately.”