A Southwest Madison daycare center that cares for more than 50 children has filed an appeal of the revocation of its license, citing incomplete or inaccurate information in the state’s revocation letter and what the director says is an incorrect interpretation of state law.
Angel’s Joy Learning Center learned on December 20 that its license was being revoked because Tracey Ferguson, the brother of center director Angela Ferguson, was convicted of homicide in Illinois in 1993 and was working at the center.
The center, which serves primarily low-income families and families of color, also hosts community events like the “Bridging the Gap” potluck, family game nights and the annual Back to School Kickback.
The revocation letter said that a complaint had been made to the Department of Children and Families, alleging that Tracey Ferguson was working at the center and being paid “off the books.” The letter also says Angela Ferguson and Nyoki Lewis, who actually holds the license for the center, told investigators that Tracey Ferguson was not employed at the center and that they hadn’t paid him, even though Department of Workforce Development records indicate the center had paid him more than $5,400 in 2018.
In an interview with Madison365, Angela Ferguson disputed these allegations. She said Tracey Ferguson was not caring for or interacting with children, and her understanding of state law was that people convicted of violent crimes were only barred from working as caregivers, not as contractors. Angela Ferguson said her brother only came occasionally to clear gutters, make small repairs and do other small cleaning tasks, usually on evenings and weekends.
Angela Ferguson further says neither she nor Lewis denied paying Tracey Ferguson, but rather that they denied paying him “off the books.”
“When (DCF investigator Amanda Postel) approached me in the office, she asked me who Tracey Ferguson was. I said, ‘he’s my brother.’ She said, ‘is he employed here?’ I told her, ‘no,’ because he wasn’t currently employed at that time and so she asked me, ‘has he been here before?’ and I told her, ‘yes.’ Both of my parents had died within a year. Whenever something needs to be fixed, I’ll call him and ask him (to fix it). I told her that he comes in from time to time and he cleans the daycare center on the weekends,” Ferguson said. “She asked every staff member here and they told her that he does not care for kids. They hadn’t seen him in a couple of months.”
Ferguson acknowledged that her brother is still technically an employee for recordkeeping purposes, but said he hadn’t worked at the center since September, and had only worked there on a few occasions since his parole in January 2018. She said the wages he was paid by the center were documented. She also said he now has both a full-time job and a part-time job elsewhere.
She also made clear that he was never in direct contact with children.
“As a matter of fact, one of the teachers was upset because he wouldn’t stand in the classroom while she went to the bathroom,” Angela Ferguson said. “And I’m like, ‘No, he’s here cleaning the play yard. He cannot be in a classroom with your kids.’”
She said her understanding was that he could legally help out around the center as long as he wasn’t what the state calls a “caregiver.”
“From my understanding, it was anybody that worked with children” who isn’t allowed to work at the center with a felony record. “We have contractors coming in all the time that are here bringing in tissue and paper towels and soap. You can’t run background checks on everybody that comes through the door.”
She further said her brother has made strides to turn his life around.
“When he got out of jail, he took computer classes, won an award from the Literacy Network here in Madison,” she said. “In June, he did a conference where he spoke to over 300 people about his experience and what he’s doing moving forward in his life. They don’t know that he got a degree while he was in jail where he could have been selling cigarettes or just sitting around lifting weights, waiting for his time to pass.”
The revocation letter also notes that DCF had “reservations” about Ferguson working as the center’s director as she had surrendered her own license in 2014 when her daycare center, at the time called Sandbox Childcare Center, failed to collect all the required parent signatures to document the time children were being cared for, which the state says resulted in overbilling WisconsinShares, the state’s childcare subsidy program. Ferguson has paid almost half of the $60,000 fine.
As a result of that settlement, Ferguson is not allowed to have oversight of any finances at Angel’s Joy. The revocation letter states that Lewis told investigators that Ferguson uses a Center debit card to make purchases for the center; Ferguson says this isn’t true.
“Amanda lied,” she said. “I nor Nyoki never told her I used a debit card. She asked about a petty cash account and who pays the bills.”
The center still has a five-star rating on Youngstar, the state’s child care quality rating website. The site lists 11 visits from licensers in 2018 and only three in 2017. Several visits in 2018 resulted in reports of minor violations like sink water being too hot or lack of training documentation.
The center filed its appeal on Saturday, requesting an administrative hearing. No date has been set.