Admiral Center closes its doors

By Gus Bode

More than 135 children are forced to find alternative care (reword)

A teacher’s call for inside voices hushed a crowd of 4- and 5-year-old children at the Admiral Child Development Center minutes before their final lunch at the daycare was wheeled into the room Friday afternoon.

The Admiral delivered notice of its closure Aug. 8 to the parents of more than 135 children who attend the daycare center at one of its two sites – 312 S. Wall Street and inside Lakeland School, Carbondale Elementary School District 95. Friday was the center’s last day of operation.


Director Deborah Lustman said the site closing was caused by financial troubles brought on by a combination of state funding and parents who failed to make payments. According to Lustman, the amount received for services from the state and parents was less than the amount needed for operation.

Currently, the FBI is investigating the Admiral although Lustman said it is unrelated to the site’s closing and nothing to do with the care of the children. The investigation began in early January, around the same time Lustman made the claim to state legislators that the state was not going to provide all of their payment for the month of January.

“I had gone to the legislators for help for the parents, and I guess when I made the accusation or assumption that the state wasn’t going to pay for all of January, they got concerned and decided to look into why I thought I was owed money,” Lustman said.

She refused further comment on the ongoing investigation.

About 80 percent of the clients whose children attend the Admiral site on Wall Street pay for their services through outside funding sources. A number of different factors qualify a parent to receive funding from Department of Human Services programs. Students typically qualify for state programs and about 60 percent of her clients are students at SIUC or John A. Logan. The other 20 percent of parents qualify because of their financial situation or other factors.

Lustman said the problem with accepting outside funding sources for pay is the amount of money reimbursed to the daycare. For example, private pay parents – those who pay from their own pockets rather than with state money – pay $19 to $22 per day for a child that is two and a half years or older. Private pay parents pay this amount while the child is enrolled in the center everyday whether or not the child is actually present.

For a child two and a half years or older, the state reimburses $17.68 per day for the parents of children that qualify for the state programs. The state does not provide money when a child is not present.


Operating as a private business, Lustman said she has the option to charge students the difference the state does not make up and for days the state does not provide money in a child’s absence, but chose not to because many of her clients were financially strapped students. Lustman said the difference in state funding and private pay has slowly pushed the Admiral into financial instability.

“The state wants us to treat clients as equals, but they don’t pay us as equals,” said Lustman, who has served as Admiral director for eight years and is a board member of the D.E.L.L Child Development Cooperation, which collectively made the decision to shut down the Admiral.

With the announced closure, parents and the 40 part- and full-time Admiral employees were left struggling to find alternative caregivers and new jobs. They received notice one week before the closing date, and many employees were bitter about the short notice and the handwritten note on the time clock informing them of procedures for final payment.

Barb Boone, who works in the kitchen, has been an Admiral employee for 14 years. Her grandson and granddaughter attend the center, and her daughter has also been an employee for five years.

“None of us have a job,” Boone said as she prepared bite-size corndogs for the 11:30 a.m. lunch. “This is all I’ve ever done. This is the first application I’ve ever filled out.”

Both Boone and cook Norma Perez said they will be forced to file for unemployment until they can find another job.

“I wasn’t speaking English when I started working here,” Perez said. “Two and a half years later and I’m doing everything.”

The Admiral and state agencies have been assisting clients in finding alternative care providers although some are still struggling to find care.

Day care providers have the option of not accepting clients who pay with outside funding sources, and Lustman said the Admiral is one of the largest providers in the area that accepts outside funding sources as a means of payment.

The Admiral has been struggling with funding since early January. To deal with the problems, the Admiral cut their extended care hours by five hours. The site’s hours of operation were originally from 7:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. but changed to a 4:30 p.m. closure. Lustman said this had to be done because the state would not reimburse the center for extended hours and the site was losing money by staying open longer.

In the cost-reducing process, the Admiral also did a sweep of staff cuts and salary reductions. Sill,, Lustman said the Admiral could not make enough money to meet regulations.

Despite all the hardships, the theme that was setting fast Friday was goodbye. For many employees, leaving the children they’ve watched grow has proved to be the biggest challenge of the site’s closure.

“I’m gonna miss these kids,” said Harris, a five-year employee of the Admiral, “But I just can’t bundle them all up and take them home with me.”

As the children call for “Mr. Robby” to bring more corndogs, he also is reminded this is the last day he will see many of them.

“This job is pretty rewarding,” said Robby Jones, a four-year Admiral employee. “These kids have been a big part of our lives for a long time.”