Any time there is a suggestion that there might be an increase in the cost of anything, there is the tendency to show concern. That is, of course, if that increase affects you.
So it was when the school board received a suggestion from our auditor that it should consider increasing fees for children attending its before-and-after-school program. The reason given was that the program was costing more than what it was taking in. In this day of having to watch expenses as much as possible, that might be a legitimate reason. For the average parent not using the program, it didn’t appear anything to be concerned about.
The program, which was designed to help out working parents with the care of their children while they’re at work and their child is at school provides a safe, supervised environment that acts as a transition period between the regular school day and the home. It includes recreation indoors and outdoors as well as a variety of enrichment activities and quiet time for homework. There’s even a snack served in the afternoon. It, of course, allows the parents to work at their job while knowing that their child or children are being cared for. For many working parents it’s a service that is vital. Without it, getting proper care for their children so that they could maintain a job were be extremely difficult.
Hours may vary for the program at different schools with after-school care beginning at the end of the normal school day. The program operates during the normal school schedule designed as it is to accommodate the work schedule of the parents.
Because some parents only require help during the morning time, there is a charge for that day part only. That cost is $10 a week per child for one child, $15 for two and $18 for three children. The charge for the after-school program is $22 per week for one child, $32 for two and $42 for three children. Children who are enrolled in the afternoon program are not charged for being in the morning program. The program also has a $5 charge for a child that is dropped in case a parent has an emergency situation that requires child care.
While the program serves a definite need, it’s not logical to ignore its relatively substantial costs. There are approximately 50 employees required to deal with the students who are enrolled in the program including special care students and, while, that’s a major cost of operating it, it’s not close to covering all the expenses.
Currently, there are 17 schools participating in the program which is down somewhat from past years. That is to be expected because of the state of the economy. Obviously, if the parents are unemployed, they may have no need for the program. Hopefully, that situation will change in the relatively near future.
In the meantime, it’s important to note that there has been no increase in the charge to parents for the service in several years despite the fact that virtually all services have increased over that period of time. While that, itself, is not necessarily a good reason for an increase, it does make somewhat of a case for justifying one.
During these days of having to be extremely careful in how money is spent, very few things including long-standing charges are inviolate.
n Johnny Hunt is the superintendent of the Public Schools of Robeson County.