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On-site child care programs cut at Seattle schools

School are squeezed for space and on-site before- and afterschool child care is being moved out to make more room.

Joshua Huston


On Feb. 3, Seattle Public Schools announced that on-site before- and afterschool programs at seven area schools would lose their dedicated spaces to make room for needed classrooms. The impacted schools are Adams, Daniel Bagley, Maple, Bryant, Hawthorne and Coe elementary schools and Madrona K-8.


The decision to possibly relocate on-site programs that have been in place at these schools, in some cases for close to 30 years, is due to a number of factors. The number of students enrolling in SPS has been increasing steadily since 2008; there were 46,000 students then, compared to 52,000 students for the 2015-16 school year, and enrollment is expected to rise again by 2.3 percent next fall. 


Schools already bursting at the seams will need to make more classrooms available as SPS starts to lower class sizes to 17 students per teacher from kindergarten through third grade, which will be required by the state in 2018. 


Flip Herndon, assistant superintendent of Facilities & Operations at Seattle Public Schools, explained that reduced K-3 class sizes can mean that for a school of around 650 students, five to six additional classrooms may be needed to accommodate the change. 


Community Day School Association provides before- and afterschool programs at Maple, Hawthorne and Madrona. Executive Director Brianna Jackson says they have communicated with parents for the past few months, since they began hearing rumblings of the possible impact on school space. The programs at these three schools represent approximately 60 preschoolers and close to 200 school-age children. 


“We have had very longstanding relationships with our schools,” Jackson says. “We don’t know exactly what will happen, but I feel very encouraged by the conversations we have been having at the building level. There is a lot of positive energy focused around maintaining the childcare and preschools.”


Seattle mom Jenny Poast’s two daughters have attended the on-site before- and afterschool program at Daniel Bagley Elementary for the past three years. In a family with two full-time working parents, Poast is grateful for such programs, but emphasized that it’s more than just childcare. “Our daughters benefit from being part of a high-quality on-site program that really extends their learning day,” Poast says. “It’s an extension of the school community. They are in a familiar environment with their school friends, continuing to learn.” 


According to the White House Summit on Working Families in 2014, both parents worked in three out of every five American families. Factor in the rising cost of Seattle’s rent and home prices, and you’ll find that having a full-time, stay-at-home parent is not a reality for many households.


Changing bell times next year will add further complexity. Most Seattle elementary students will finish school at 2:10 pm instead of 3:40, while high schools and middle schools will start and end later, which may lead to a greater demand for these programs, not less.  


“Only seven school sites are impacted now, but this is only the tip of the iceberg,” says Susan Brown, president and CEO of Kids Co., which provides before- and afterschool care, preschool, and summer day camp for children at 12 onsite centers in Seattle-area public schools. “More children are enrolling in our schools each year, class sizes are being reduced, and the demand for space will only continue to grow.”


Herndon acknowledged that there may still be other schools impacted for the upcoming year, but SPS won’t know for sure until after open enrollment closes in early March. If there are additional schools affected, they’ll be announced in April. 


“This is a good time for the District and all of us to think about how the economic and social needs of education extend beyond the hours of 9 am to 3 pm.,” says Jackson. “We need to recognize that there has been a cultural shift, and that a 9-to-3 day isn’t feasible for most families, and we need to be supportive of the families that make up our school community.” 


While Adams Elementary is the only Kids Co. school currently on the list, Brown is closely considering options should other schools be impacted, pointing out that Kids Co. programs serve approximately 1,600 children, and one-third of those families receive scholarships. “We have a lot of single-parent households,” says Brown. “With the changing bell times, we know some families will no longer be able to rely on older sibling care after school.” 


While Poast and other parents wait for more information, she’s hopeful that solutions can be found. “I understand there is a lot of demand for space at our schools, but I am confident we can work together to reimagine the spaces we do have, to help keep these programs in place.” 


Solutions will be needed soon; providers are expected to move from their dedicated spaces by July 1, just when summer programs would be in full swing. 


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