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NL council votes to provide childcare funding, in short term

City may still step out of BASP at Garner

NORTH LIBERTY– The City of North Liberty will work with Iowa City schools to continue before-and-after-school childcare at Garner Elementary, at least through the end of December.
The North Liberty City Council learned recently that all school-age childcare programs located on Iowa City Community School District (ICCSD) properties would be required to obtain licensure from the state’s Department of Human Services (DHS), under a new law that will take effect Jan. 1, 2016. While most of the school district’s 19 before-and-after-school care sites are operated by district staff, the ICCSD partners with the City of North Liberty’s recreation department to provide care at Garner Elementary School, and with the City of Coralville’s recreation department to provide care at the Wickham, Borlaug and Van Allen elementary schools– four locations that are not licensed through DHS.
The City of North Liberty also operates its own before-and-after-school childcare at the North Liberty Recreation Center. It is not licensed through DHS, but since the state law makes exemptions for recreation-based childcare programs, the city has maintained that both programs fall under that exemption.
North Liberty Recreation Director Shelly Simpson and the city’s Before-and-After-School Program Director Matt Fielder were on hand at the council’s July 28 meeting to answer questions. Both indicated obtaining DHS licensure would bring additional responsibilities and costs to the program.
“With DHS licensing, there are lot of staffing costs, continuing education credits they have to obtain, and record keeping is basically a full time job,” said Fielder. “There’s a lot of detail that goes into being certified.”
Simpson agreed.
“There is a lot of administrative (duties) to make sure that regulations are being met and paperwork is kept up; that’s what we’ve heard so far. And we are still researching and trying to figure that all out,” Simpson added.
Whether or not the city’s programs will be required to obtain licensure is still under investigation, but no council member expressed interest in pursuing it.

City-sponsored subsidies for child care?
A related issue is whether or not the city-run programs were willing to provide subsidies to families who cannot afford childcare.
Iowa DHS makes childcare funds available to income-eligible families who qualify based on their employment or job-seeking status. DHS-licensed centers in ICCSD buildings participate in the funding model, and district officials sent notice in January that all programs operating in their facilities must offer similar financial assistance to families in need, starting in the 2015-2016 school year.
In February, North Liberty responded with a proposal that would have reduced tuition fees for 10 percent of Garner’s enrolled families, or seven of the center’s 70 children.
However, the district rejected the city’s proposal, and in March replied that the program must offer either state Child Care Assistance (CCA) funds or an equivalent no-cost option to income-eligible families.
Last week, City Administrator Ryan Heair told the council that the staff was now proposing to offer scholarships for qualifying families at Garner, at a potential cost of $13,860 each year. Further, staff also recommended the same level of assistance be offered at the recreation center site as well, which would cost the city up to $17,820.
Council members were reluctant to consider the scholarships.
“My problem is, if we give away free slots, then actually we are subsidizing certain people’s childcare, but not everybody’s,” said councilman Brian Wayson. “Where do you stop? This is city money, and it’s coming from taxes.”
Wayson said if the city didn’t already have staff committed to the program, he would be in favor of dropping the Garner program completely.
Council member Chris Hoffman agreed.
“I’m not crazy about the extra funding for the Garner situation. I’m sympathetic to the parents this would affect, and for the employees, but financially it doesn’t make sense for us to do this,” Hoffman said. “I would prefer for us not to be in the business of running the before-and-after-school program at Garner. I would prefer for it to be on city property.”
Wayson also said he was displeased after learning that ICCSD board members directed administration, on July 21, to search for other potential program providers, should the City of North Liberty decline to subsidize tuitions.
“I think it is not in our best interest overall. I would be willing to work with them, but reading the newspaper article, the district said ‘we don’t care what they do because we’ll take care of it,’ and I didn’t appreciate that tone. So if they have a plan, I’m okay with letting them have their plan.”
Susie Poulton, ICCSD’s Director of Health and Student Services, confirmed the district was prepared to discontinue its relationship with North Liberty if the city couldn’t meet district requirements.
“The school board directed us to put out an RFP (request for proposals), contingent on your decision tonight, and we have had two agencies (respond),” Poulton said.

Current commitments
Though city council members generally weren’t enthusiastic about either DHS licensing or providing long-term subsidies, Mayor Amy Nielsen reminded them that the most pressing reason to make a decision were the families already enrolled in Garner’s program.
“The biggest thing we need to consider is the 70 families who already signed up for childcare at Garner. So those 70 families are going to, all the sudden, be without anything.” She asked the council to consider providing full-tuition subsidies through the 2015-2016 school year, in order to give the district time to seek another provider, and to give families time to find alternative affordable childcare.
One permanent full-time staff person and 10 to 15 part-time positions would be impacted by a decision to terminate the city’s involvement in the Garner program altogether.
In addition to family and staff considerations, Nielsen pointed out the district and the city agreed the school would up-size Garner’s gym during its construction in 2009 to provide space for a city-run childcare program there.
“I want to remind everybody we owe the district about $700,000 for the upgraded gym in the Garner building, so if we aren’t (providing a program there) any longer, we spent $700,000 and we’re not getting any of that service,” Nielsen said.
Hoffman disagreed that the city had not fulfilled its obligation.
“The gym is still going to be used for way more than before-and-after-school care; it’s still going to be used a lot for recreation leagues,” Hoffman said. “So whatever moneys we committed to, it’s going to a tremendous citywide purpose, not just the before-and-after-school program.”
Hoffman and Wayson suggested that giving tuition scholarships to children in need could be done through the end of this calendar year, giving families ample time to find alternative arrangements.
That satisfied the entire council body, which voted 5-0 in favor of providing scholarships through Dec. 31.
But, Heiar wasn’t as quick to let the program go completely. He asked the council to defer its decision on terminating the city’s involvement at Garner until staff could confirm whether DHS licensure will be required based on the city’s recreational program status. “My thought is, if we can find out what the answer is in the next 30 days or so, I assume that would still give the district enough time to make a transition if necessary,” he said.
Since the district received proposals from two other entities interested in a childcare partnership, Poulton indicated the council’s decision allowed a reasonable timeframe to find another provider.
“But just so we are clear, at the end of 2015, if you decide to continue (at Garner), we are still going to need you to take Child Care Assistance (funds) through DHS licensure, or continue this (scholarship) program,” Poulton said. “That will work.”