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State-Mandated Childcare for Underserved Families Met with Criticisms

Santa Clara Unified School District is required by the State of California to provide free childcare to their “unduplicated” population who are English learners, free and reduced lunch program participants, foster children and homeless children. The current severely understaffed fee-based childcare program cannot handle this responsibility so the District is looking at solutions.

 

Extended Day Program

Panic entered the Board of Trustees meeting on Thursday, Dec. 8 regarding the Extended Day Program. The community learned about changes coming to before and after school programs via social media. Families and staff begged the Board to leave the program alone – staff feared for their jobs and families feared for their childcare.

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Interim Superintendent Dr. Gary Waddell quickly explained that some sort of change to these programs was mandated by the State of California. California Education Code 46120 demanded that school districts offer a free TK through 6th grade Expanded Learning Opportunities Program (ELOP) for their unduplicated population. Santa Clara Unified has 2,500 unduplicated kids and the District is required to provide childcare for them starting next year.

“Expanded Learning includes before school, after school, summer, or intersession learning programs that focus on developing the academic, social, emotional needs and interests of pupils through hands-on, engaging learning experiences,” according to the meeting’s agenda.

Though this program is meant to provide childcare for the most underserved population, parents who secured exclusive spots in the current fee-based Extended Day Program were scared of what that meant for their childcare. The current program is severely understaffed and has a huge waitlist making it inaccessible to those who can afford it let alone families who can’t afford childcare but desperately need it.

New Board President Vickie Fairchild apologized to child education staff about how “this all went down” but admitted that they can’t deny how inaccessible their childcare program is right now. “We’re in a rock and a hard place… when we talk about equity, this is a mandate that is meant to serve our kids whose parents can’t and will never get on your waitlist,” she said to the child education staff. “They can’t afford it.”

Dr. Waddell explained that ideally, they would handle ELOP themselves, but they haven’t been able to fill staffing gaps even with the smaller program they have. With their current waitlist, which doesn’t even include the children they have to serve with ELOP, they would need 80 more staff, but they can’t even fill the 44 staff openings for the current program that have been gathering dust since the beginning of the year. They’ve had to close more than half of the before school programs and the staff they do have is running from site to site daily to help where they can, according to Kathie Kanavel, Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services.

The Board was disappointed that changes to before and after school programs weren’t better communicated, causing panic and misinformation to quickly spread. Kanavel said she did meet with Extended Day staff to give them a heads-up.

The current plan is to run an ELOP pilot program with vendor Right at School from January 2023 – June 2024 while keeping the current paid childcare options. During this time, they would work out the details of the future of childcare at the District as they incorporate ELOP.

Though staff will be offered “first right of refusal” they worried about their job security, pay and benefits. Many who called into the meetings were emotional and begged the Board to reconsider handing over the whole program to this vendor. Some suggested letting their program stay and letting Right at School handle everything else – the waitlist and ELOP. Extended Day already works closely with YMCA and the Boys & Girls Club to serve more kids.

Board Member Albert Gonzalez asked how this vendor could possibly find staff when they and so many other school districts are struggling to fill roles. Representatives from Right at School explained that because they have dedicated recruitment and they’ve had success at other districts – albeit not all.

Board Clerk Jim Canova proposed that perhaps they should use the budget they planned to pay Right at School to hire recruiters instead of handing over the whole management of before and after school programming to them. According to the agenda, all costs associated with the implementation and operation of ELOP will be paid from State restricted funding sources.

The Board agreed to table this item and take no action for now.

 

The Budget

Positive news regarding the District’s budget? In this economy?

Chief Business Official Mark Schiel shared that net property tax revenues are outpacing predictions. They had predicted a 3.1% increase but are now looking at a 6.4% increase. This is because the City of Santa Clara has finished the requirements to move assets from the old Redevelopment Agency (RDA) tax roll into the unsecured tax roll which grows at 5% while RDA only grows at about 2%.

Additionally, they got an unexpected bump in transportation revenue. Thanks to the State, Santa Clara Unified is now receiving transportation funds of about $2.6 million annually, though this doesn’t come close to covering their transportation expenses.

Shiel’s report wasn’t all sunshine. California revenues are landing about $2 billion lower than expected which could spell disaster for State funding the District gets. Also, STERS and PERS (public school teacher retirement) didn’t reach investment goals so they may increase employer contributions.

And of course, inflation. Vendors warned that costs compared to last year are up – specifically for asphalt projects.

And the Board can’t seem to escape a meeting without hearing about declining enrollment and birthrates. New enrollment isn’t keeping pace with graduation rates, said Schiel.

 

Hiring

The Board approved hiring Terry Loo as the new Contracts Manager in the Bond Department. They also welcomed Joe Young as the new Principal of Agnews Elementary School.

 

New Leadership

With elections officially over, there was no change to the faces of the Santa Clara Unified Board of Trustees. Jim Canova, Vickie Fairchild, Andy Ratermann and Jodi Muirhead were all sworn in for another term.

They also approved appointing Fairchild as the new Board President, Bonnie Lieberman as Board Vice President, and Canova as Board Clerk.

The Board is done for the year and will come back for their next regular meeting on Thursday, Jan. 12, 2023.

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