Changes to tuition, both cost and payment options, are being considered for the district’s before and after school programs as educators work to expand access to local families economically disadvantaged.
“It continues to be a priority to responsibly raise fees,” David Murphy, district assistant superintendent for finance and operations, said at the Feb. 28 school committee meeting. “It is a logic to maintain the flow of income. This increase, we have tried to keep it modest.
Describing it as a “modest” increase, from $25 per day to $26.39, the slight daily increase will yield an additional $250 for the 180-day program: up to $4,750. This increase, Murphy believes, reflects a “need to maintain a healthy revenue stream.”
In a PowerPoint presentation, Murphy described the cost of the program:
- $500,000 in staff
- $25,000 for supplies
- $5,000 miscellaneous expenses
- $130,000 for administrative staff; the district will hire a program director and an administrative assistant
- The program reflects a two percent increase in hourly wages
- The hourly wage for site coordinators will increase from $33 to $36.66
- Senior Group Leader salary will increase by fifty cents to $25.50
- Group leaders will earn 40 cents per hour more, $20.40
- Assistant Group Leader salary increases by 15 cents to $17.85
- School-age helpers will continue to earn $14.
- The salary for the new after-school care coordinator will be $40,000-50,000, based on a 30-40 hour work week.
“We’re trying to find the right place in the market,” Murphy said of the numbers. “We want it to be accessible, but we don’t want people paying for seats they may not need.”
Keep the program accessible to everyone
Director of Student Family Engagement Megan Fidler-Carey believes the program should be accessible to those who need it and not just a cheap alternative to others.
School committee member Melanie McLaughlin asked questions on a sliding scale “for those who can afford more”.
Murphy was not encouraging.
“A modest sliding scale is as far as I’m comfortable putting revenue at risk,” Murphy replied. “There is always a problem asking people how much they can afford. This is a difficult question and we don’t have a parallel system (to determine this). I hesitate to draw conclusions from people who come forward. I’m not sure it’s representative of the community.
Other changes include the elimination of a four-day-a-week option to increase accessibility by counting available spaces, not people using the program.
Use of state Department of Early Education and Care (EEC) vouchers will also be discontinued “due to the hardship they cause to families in need, redundant practices, and unnecessary administrative burdens imposed.” by the state”. Families currently using state vouchers will receive tuition waivers commensurate with the voucher support they currently receive for the remainder of their time in the program.
The system accepts vouchers from the non-profit childcare circuit, but this requires an application through the state’s EEC, which, in turn, requires rigorous background checks on duplicate employees. often the background checks done by school systems, Fidler-Carey explained.
“It’s a lot of work for very little good,” Fidler-Carey said of the program in 2020. “Maybe we could help families better with other options.”
State bonds will be phased out
Murphy said relying on state vouchers can be a barrier to accessing the program.
“The intention was to create access, but because they’re so heavy, some families don’t have access to them,” Murphy said. “Removing vouchers may make it look like we’re closing off access, but we think it will have the opposite effect. Our recommendation is to use the voucher program for one more year and that families who use the voucher this school year are grandfathered or waived their tuition fees.
“We are prepared to absorb these costs,” Murphy said. “But at some point there is a (revenue) risk involved. We have to look at the data. You have to consider the level of risk. There is no magic number. There is no way to tell how much this or that will cost.
The state sets the cost of the program, which the district can charge those who use vouchers, Fidler-Carey said.
“We can only charge the minimum amount,” Fidler-Carey. “If we charge someone less, we cannot be reimbursed.”
McLaughlin was the only one to vote against that part of the plan, which was the subject of a separate motion.
“I understand the desire to get rid of the paperwork, but you don’t want to exclude economically disadvantaged people,” she said. “The voucher was created to provide access to families. I approve of the rate of pay but not the removal of vouchers as this will exclude families. I don’t want to exclude families.