First published in the May 21 print issue of the Glendale News Press.
The Glendale Unified School District aims to continue hiring employees to accommodate the deluge of applicants for pre- and post-school child care for the upcoming school year.
Additionally, the district is also exploring potential partnerships — including with the city’s Parks and Recreation Department and the YMCA — to host some portion of those students for their afterschool care. Through a combination of these steps, district officials hope to take nearly 800 students off of the current waitlist, which was established last week.
“We are continuing to recruit and hire staff,” Jay Schwartz, the director of child development and child care for GUSD, said at this week’s school board meeting. “As we come up with these solutions, we will contact families and let them know immediately that they can count on childcare for next year.”
GUSD has received 4,665 requests for child care for the 2022-23 school year, representing a substantial increase from the pre-pandemic average of 2,671, according to a presentation this week. Although the district has thus far accommodated 3,685 of those students, there remain 780 across 12 schools unassigned, for now.
Eight schools, which averaged between 100 and 150 applicants, have been fully accommodated, Schwartz noted. Additionally, all requests for morning child care have been met, and for the most part, those on the waitlist are families who are paying for some level of afternoon care. Students whose care is covered by a federal or state subsidy have been accommodated, the district said.
Different levels of child care include morning care; the “kinder-bridge” program which holds TK and kindergarten students until the higher grade dismissals; the dismissal-plus-60 program, which holds students for an hour after the end of the school day; and those cared for until 6 p.m.
Schwartz said the district has 25 open positions for child care listed and projects that an additional 40 hires would be needed to allow for a 10:1 classroom ratio for TK and kindergarten and a 20:1 ratio for grades 1-6.
“We’re trying to fit in every single child in every little corner of our program so we can meet the greatest need,” Schwartz said. “I won’t stop trying to come up with solutions to try to meet every family’s need.”
In previous years, child care programs were funded and administered in separate as well as complicated manners, the district’s work to centralize their functions has both streamlined them and significantly reduced their cost, officials said.
“We have deliberately reduced the cost for child care for our parents who do not qualify in any of the other [subsidized] categories,” Superintendent Vivian Ekchian said, adding that the programs were “five times” costlier as recently as 2019.
The situation generated some feedback from parents this week, who spoke in person and via Zoom to express their worry and disappointment that their child care requests weren’t yet met for the forthcoming year.
Kristina Ronnquist, parent to an incoming kindergartener enrolled in the French immersion program at Franklin, told the school board on Tuesday that GUSD had “failed” its families and suggested that the district’s issues were rooted in not offering a “living wage” or certain employment benefits to its child care staff.
“The duty rests on your backs to help us figure out what to do and how to provide child care for our children,” Ronnquist said. “This is your failure, not ours.”
Chris Davis, a Clark Magnet High School teacher currently serving as president of the Glendale Teachers Association labor group, also spoke on Tuesday, emphasizing how important child care is for families.
“Families who require child care are often the families that have the fewest resources available to them, either in terms of money or in time, to obtain that care for their children,” Davis said. “In public education, we strive to provide equity, to create the conditions in which students and their families will thrive. This burden is not only on the individual educators, but upon our educational community as a whole.
“Our district’s leadership doesn’t want to turn away families, I know,” he added.
Davis also noted Tuesday that he hoped the district’s new labor agreement with the California School Employees Association would further incentivize prospective child care employees to join the district. The tentative agreement reached on May 9 includes a retroactive $1 per hour raise for the entire current fiscal year and an additional $1 per hour raise beginning on July 1. The agreement also beefs up dental and vision benefits for those employees.
The CSEA has not yet voted on ratifying the agreement, and the two parties expect to explore further changes to account for the state’s eventual budget for public schools, which is expected to open a wave of additional funding.
GUSD officials asked families for their patience as they continue to iron out the problem.
“I think parents need to be patient about this process,” school board member Armina Gharpetian said. “Yes, we have several months until August, and yes, parents need to know their kids’ child care needs. I’m begging parents to be patient and I assure them that we will accommodate as many students as possible as time goes by.”
Schwartz noted that capacity with GUSD’s child care offerings is “not a new challenge” and she remained hopeful that the district would be able to get a handle on the “tremendous growth” of the program. She speculated that the surge in applicants had three main causes — the loss of older relatives who once cared for their family’s children, parents needing to return to work and broader exposure to the district’s programs when they were made free and open to all during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think the community need has just changed, because of the pandemic,” Schwartz said.
Ekchian noted Tuesday that throughout the pandemic, in spite of declining enrollment, the district has added 212 certificated employees, 247 permanent classified employees and 174 substitute classified employees. She said he expects to ultimately fill its open positions.
“There is a process in place,” Ekchian said. “There is a recruitment in place, even though nationally we’re going through the ‘great resignation,’ as it’s called, and there have been challenges around attracting individuals to want to work anywhere at this time, but we will continue to hire because it is always our goal to support our students.”