An internal evaluation of Albemarle County Public Schools’ largest afterschool program found that it is struggling to fill staff vacancies and meet demand from families.
Jamie Gellner, program evaluator for the division, on Thursday presented her evaluation of EDEP to the county School Board.
“We should be wary of making changes to a program that is perceived to be of higher quality,” Gellner said. “The program is meeting its current mission, but staff vacancies are resulting in longer waitlists.”
EDEP serves a total of 1,075 students at all of the county’s elementary schools except Yancey, which operates an independent afterschool learning center. EDEP offers enrichment activities, homework assistance and playtime until 6:30 p.m.
Students are admitted to the program at their school on a first-come, first-served basis. As of December, 216 students across the division were on a waitlist for the program, and only 10 students were taken off waitlists between October and December last year.
“The need for the service has increased significantly over the last few years,” said Kelvin Reid, director of EDEP.
This year, the Virginia Senate and House of Delegates both passed bills that would exempt extended-day programs at public schools from student/staff ratios and some other requirements for child day centers effective July 1, 2018. The Albemarle and Charlottesville school divisions both lobbied for the legislation, which is now in conference committee.
Under the current law, an afterschool classroom with at least one preschool-age student must have a 1:10 staffing ratio. For elementary-age students, the maximum staffing ratio is 1:18.
According to the report, the legislation would enable the Extended Day Enrichment Program to serve more students — and increase its revenue — without hiring additional staff.
“That is a small change that will have a huge impact,” Gellner said in an interview.
Gellner said the exact number of students who could be added to the program is still being determined. Board member David Oberg said he would consider barring preschool students from EDEP to improve the staff ratios.
“I recognize that for those 16 families [with preschoolers in the program], that’s a big deal,” Oberg said.
Reid said he currently is working to fill seven staff vacancies in the program. To improve the recruitment and retention of afterschool staff, Gellner proposed offering a higher hourly wage or creating more full-time positions with benefits.
“[Staffing] is going to be a challenge,” Gellner said, adding that the division faces similar difficulties in maintaining its food service and transportation staff.
School Board member Steve Koleszar suggested training high school students to serve as EDEP staff as part of a for-credit work program.
The report also identified the cost of the program as a barrier for some families. Monthly tuition is currently $210, with a subsidized rate of $105 per month for low-income families. Only 4.2 percent of program participants received financial assistance from either the county, the state or the United Way-Thomas Jefferson Area.
“[The program] does not serve economically disadvantaged students proportionately,” Gellner said.
In her evaluation, Gellner suggested that the School Board or the Board of Supervisors subsidize the program to lower the cost of enrollment.
School Board member Pam Moynihan said potential subsidies and access to the afterschool program should be focused on families who need child care because of work obligations.
“The best reason for subsidizing this program is to help working families and working parents,” Moynihan said.
Moynihan and School Board Chairwoman Kate Acuff voiced differing opinions about the importance of the program’s educational value.
“If we are talking about subsidizing out of the schools’ budget, it has to be consistent with our mission of educating and enriching kids, not just providing affordable care,” Acuff said.
“I don’t understand the difference between afterschool and enrichment,” Moynihan said. “[As a mother], I was happy to have afterschool, and I was glad it was enrichment.”
Dean Tistadt, chief operating officer for the division, asked School Board members if they were interested in partnering with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Virginia to provide afterschool programs at some locations in the county. The board agreed to discuss the possibility at a future work session.