Jonathan and Beth Turman ran Tutor Time in Glen Cove for 15 years before changing their name to Kids by the Bunch in September, ending their affiliation with the national child care learning center franchise over a list of grievances.
"We were getting no support. All the products, such as curriculum, were very stale. Nothing was being updated and they charged huge royalty fees," Turman said.
The couple now faces a suit in federal court accusing them of breaching their contract.
The franchise's parent company, Learning Care Group, has changed hands several times during the Turman's nearly two decades in operaton. The current owner, Morgan Stanley, acquired the company in 2008 when its previous owners went bankrupt. Patch reached Learning Care Group but they declined to comment on ongoing litigation.
"The last five years have been horrible," said Turman, who has run a second center, Kids by the Bunch Too, in Syosset for eight years. He described the franchise's previous owners as more geared toward the company's mission of providing quality care and teaching to children.
That attitude was out as Morgan Stanley's Private Equities arm came in. Corporate decrees coming from hundreds of miles away prioritized the bottom line over education, he said. Cleaning service was cut, forcing teachers to absorb janitorial duties or risk their facilities becoming a mess. Keeping pace with ever-evolving grade school curriculums became impossible.
"Our hands were tied as to what we could explore," said Beth.
Turman said the centers' security systems had not been updated since 2001. Any improvements had to be made at the expense of something else.
"Everything had become cost-inhibitive because you had to rob Peter to pay Paul," Turman said. They joined other centers in presenting grievances to the franchise association, to no avail.
The couple decided the benefits of leaving would outweigh the backlash they expected from Tutor Time. It was a move They split on Sep. 16, with eight years left on their contract for the Syosset location. The Glen Cove center's contract was expired, according to Turman, although both contracts were named in the franchise's suit.
Despite the legal trouble, the Turman's said they feel they made the right choice.
"They were like a noose around my neck, not just financially but creatively and intellectually," Turman said.
Kids by the Bunch has since updated its security, instituted the Galileo curriculum for preschool and pre-kindergarten children, and plans to add more programs. The two centers once again have the flexibility necessary to address children as individuals.
"The concept of pushing a child along does not exist here," said Turman.
Business has been "soft," with the Glen Cove center at under 80 percent capacity and Syosset at barely more than half its 190-student capacity. The economy hit hard; Kids by the Bunch Too lost 20 enrollments in one day when a corporate division employing a number of local families closed.
Yet Turman had no doubt his centers are "stronger than ever and here to stay." His teachers are that strength -- most of them have been with him for eight or more years --and Beth said she and her husband give them space to be creative in their classrooms.
"We respect what they do," Beth said.
The Turman's regard their move as one of survival -- an attempt to avoid the fate of the couple hundred Tutor Time centers that have gone under out of 1,600 or so total.
The couple won't be the only defendants in the case, though. They hold 110 counterclaims alleging the franchise owner defaulted on its own contractual obligations.
Editor's Note: An earlier version of this article stated the Turman's opened Tutor Time in Glen Cove 18 years ago. It was 15 years ago. They have been with the franchise for 18 years.