Burgeoning development and limited childcare options in Delavan have Delavan-Darien School District officials feeling “cautiously optimistic” a proposed early childhood learning center at Wileman Elementary would be viable.
The learning center has become the administration’s centerpiece proposal since the school board approved a district-wide realignment earlier this month. The move will reopen Darien Elementary next school year and shift classes from Wileman Elementary to Turtle Creek Elementary.
The realignment comes after voters approved a $2.8 million nonrecurring operational referendum in November. It will vacate Wileman Elementary, which currently houses 4-year-old kindergarten and kindergarten, next school year, allowing the building to host the proposed center. The school board has yet to vote on the program.
Superintendent Jill Sorbie has led the charge for the center. She said last week the program’s details are still evolving, but it would be tuition-based and could provide full-day or half-day educational day care for children 6 weeks to 3 years old.
Preliminary estimates indicate the district could make about $34,000 a year from the program. Revenue from tuition could be about $455,072, and expenses could be about $420,579, according to district estimates.
Sorbie said the district is considering partnering with a third-party day care that would administer the program and be responsible for staffing, payroll and finances. That partnership could lift some of the burden off the district, Sorbie said.
Officials have met with at least two day care organizations to discuss the program. Sorbie said the contracted day care would essentially rent the building, and the district would ideally develop the program’s curriculum.
Sorbie is cautiously optimistic the center would be viable. According to the district’s research of state figures, about five childcare centers currently exist in Delavan, and they have a total licensed capacity of up to 175 children.
Sorbie said the center at Wileman Elementary could have between 40 and 50 children enrolled at the onset. She hopes it also would attract children from surrounding areas such as Elkhorn and Walworth.
New development in the area could be a boon for the program. Two sizable industrial developments currently are under construction in the city of Delavan, and a 200-acre, mixed-use development at Highway 50 and Interstate 43 has begun attracting large-scale, big-box retailers.
Additionally, Sorbie pointed to a new residential subdivision proposed in the town of Delavan and that would be the town’s largest and consist primarily of single-family homes.
“In general, I think that this district has not seen a tremendous amount of building, but now we’re starting to see industry,” Sorbie said. “I think the developers are just little behind or simultaneously side-by-side with some new industry coming in.”
Sorbie has said the early childhood program could act as a pipeline for new students. Children could attend the program until 4-year-old kindergarten, and then enroll in the district, which could curtail its shrinking student body.
Declining enrollment has been one of the district’s chief concerns over the past few years. About 80 students in 4-year-old kindergarten and kindergarten open-enrolled out the district before classes started this year, and over five years, the district has seen about a 16 percent drop in enrollment.
The school board is expected to vote on the proposal in a few months.