By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer
Greene County government has been a part of the provision of child care for over a quarter of a century. Due to a confluence of events, the existing afterschool program has been terminated. The Board of Supervisors and School Board remain committed to finding a new Greene County after school programmatic solution that meets or exceeds all the mandated regulations but that solution has not yet been identified.
The Greene County Board of Supervisors was presented a summarization of the history of the Child Care Program at their meeting on Tuesday, February 26th by acting County Administrator Brenda Garton. The program started in 1990, was licensed through Social Services and used space in the school system.
The school system became more involved in the operation of the program in 2018. Last July, one of the two sites needed to be closed down due to a reduction in staffing and it was decided that the program at Nathaniel Greene would be closed down and only the Ruckersville Elementary School program would exist for all children in Greene County. Parents were notified and the school year started with just Ruckersville operating.
On September 18th Program Director Ginger Morris resigned and she was replaced by two individuals. At that point, the two new directors approached Superintendent Andrea Whitmarsh asking to have the school system help run the program, more than just allowing the program to use their school in Ruckersville.
In order to do this the budget needed to be split apart for the child care program cost to be separated out of the Social Services total budget. Whitmarsh analyzed the budgeted costs vs. the fees charged for children to attend the program. The result of this analysis shows that the price being charged does not cover the cost to run the program.
The fee structure could easily be solved by a price increase, but it wasn’t the only problem. With the departure of several staff members, the qualifications of the remaining staff do not meet the state requirements. A February 19th letter was sent home to the parents saying that the program may have to close by the end of March.
Since that letter was issued, officials have scrambled to determine how to keep it in operation until the end of the school year while the program is trying to get its certification renewed.
During the public hearing portion of the meeting Supervisors heard from thirteen speakers all in favor of keeping the Child Care Program in operation. Most of the speakers are parents of children in the program and they all agreed they would be willing to pay more for the program. Some even expressed surprise over the low price Greene County has been charging.
One speaker – James Murphy – very pointedly reminded the Supervisors that three of their seats are coming up for election this fall. He further commented that he hoped that the closure of the program wasn’t motivated by a desire to get re-elected. Given the outpouring of statements against the discontinuing of the program, it is hard to understand how Murphy felt this would help Supervisors get reelected. In addition, Murphy pointed out that $118,000 was approved to move to the school system to support the program. Murphy’s final comment was that this situation is “a dumpster fire”.
After public comment, Whitmarsh commented that this is a very emotional conversation and clearly there is a need for an afterschool program in Greene County. When the schools were asked to help run the program it was found that there are financial and staffing issues with qualifications. Whitmarsh pledged that the school system is a vested partner in resolving these issues and she welcomes parents input in finding a solution to this situation.
Supervisor Michelle Flynn (Ruckersville) addressed Murphy’s comment saying that she resented him stating that this action is politically motivated. While possibly not audible to all in attendance – Murphy quietly stated “sorry”.
Flynn stated that if only more funds were needed to operate the program, it would be a no brainer to see that more revenue was allocated to support the program. Unfortunately, there are more issues than money, such as staffing, training and safety. The public was given as much notice as possible and she insisted that two other certified day care providers in Greene County be included in the letter that the parents received.
Supervisor Dale Herring (At-Large) stated that the current program cannot go forward based on not meeting current requirements. He encouraged that all keep looking for solutions to this problem and the program is an asset to the county. Supervisor David Cox (Monroe) stressed the need for this program and agreed that a solution must be found.
Chairman Bill Martin (Stanardsville) thanked the public for their time to attend the meeting and share their views on the issue. He was glad that the program was able to be extended to the end of the school year but that the current situation isn’t sustainable for the next school year. He was encouraged that the private sector may expand to address this identified after school care demand. He indicated he is “confident” that there will be a solution.
Supervisors then voted 4-1 (Cox opposed) to terminate the existing After- School and Summer Child Care Programs effective at the end of the current school year. Martin indicated this was not an ending of after school care but it is the ending of the program as it is constituted today.
After the meeting Herring clarified that the current program did not have the staff with the required level of certification to operate with the departure of several of the staff members. This problem left no alternative for the Supervisors but to terminate the program at the end of the school year.
Martin confirmed that the program is certified through the end of the school year. He further stated that the program could be continued if the school system takes it over. They have the staff, educators and healthcare providers to provide the standard of care required. This last point was made in a conversation after the meeting and it was not clear from the discussion during the meeting that the school could take the program over.
In a post meeting interview, Garton acknowledged that the program has been recertified for at least one more year and the county is awaiting the formal document. So the program will be operating through the end of this school year. What is unclear is why the program had to be terminated at the end of the school year if the certification extends into the next school year.
However, the extending of the program to the end of the school year appears to have softened the blow to those who have children in the program.
Publicly announcing the closure of the program in open session has accomplished one goal – it has educated those who have a vested interest and hopefully, those citizens along with the leaders in Greene County can work toward developing a new program to replace the one that is being dissolved at the end of the school year.
After the action items were acted upon and during the Second Quarter Financial Report, Flynn asked Finance Director Tracy Morris if the $118,000 was ever transferred to the schools budget for the operation of the program. Budget Director Morris clarified that the $118,000 had been approved for the program within the school but the funds never were actually transferred to the schools budget. The comment confirmed that the funding of the program is not the problem – it is the staffing of the program with personnel with the proper certifications. Unfortunately, Murphy had left the meeting so he did not hear this explanation of the funding.
Hopefully the raising of this issue in February will allow enough time to come up with a permanent solution either within the school system or within the private sector that will assist families that work and rely on an after school program in order to provide child care for their children. This is a key component toward a county that is trying to help working families live in Greene County.
Brent Wilson is the Greene County Field Officer for the Free Enterprise Forum a privately funded public policy organization. The Free Enterprise Forum Field Officer program is funded by a generous grant from the Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS® (CAAR) and by readers like you. To support this important work please donate online at http://www.freeenterpriseforum.org