David Kimbrough, 7, right, Clayton Haywood, 6, center, and Kyla Belcourt, 8, play in sprinklers set up during the RALLY program at Harborview Elementary School on Wednesday, June 26, 2019. RALLY provides before- and after-school care to families with school-age children and offers care during school breaks. Recently, some parents have complained that the price of the program is too high. Meanwhile, school officials say RALLY routinely loses money and that changes are needed to make it more sustainable. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)

RALLY attendance stresses family and program budgets

School administrators look for a sustainable operating model

In a country where school schedules and the work patterns of parents rarely match, the question of afterschool care looms large for many families.

For several years, child care in Juneau has included RALLY. Short for Relationships and Leadership, Learning for Youth, RALLY provides before- and after-school care to families with school-age children.

However, some parents have complained that the price of the program is too high. A post about costs on the Juneau Community Collective Facebook page generated more than 340 comments in early August.

Meanwhile, school officials say RALLY routinely loses money and that changes are needed to make it more sustainable.

“We don’t make money,” said Cassee Olin, director of administrative services for the Juneau School district. “RALLY has run in the red for quite a few years.”

Last school year, as students stayed home and took classes primarily online for several months, enrollment sagged and the program ran a $745,000 deficit, Olin said.

The deficit accrued despite a $212,252 subsidy from the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly.

“We are trying to figure out the best way to break even and clear that deficit,” Olin said, adding that she’s hoping federal money might help, but it’s not clear yet.

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RALLY offers parents dependable before- and after-school care for school-age children until six in the evening and during school breaks, including summer vacation. At two sites, early morning care is available before school.

Currently, 70 students are enrolled, and a staff of 13 people supports the program.

The after-school program provides an opportunity for students to do homework, receive tutoring, read, play games, grab a snack and participate in age-based activities.

Olin said RALLY offers enriching educational opportunities and focuses on STEAM—or science, technology, engineering, art and math activities.

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Depending on the care hours parents need, costs range from $582 to $999 a month for each child. Reserved drop-in care for up to 10 days a month is available for $62 for a full day or $42 for a part of the day.

According to Olin, costs are high for various reasons, but the main driver is labor.

Olin said that RALLY staff members are school district employees who are paid on a union scale and are eligible for benefits.

Pay for RALLY staff can go as high as $40 an hour for the site manager and up to about $28 an hour for the “rec assistant” role. Assistant site managers are eligible to earn up to $31.14 an hour.

Olin said that the RALLY program operates as a licensed daycare, which means the program must adhere to several state regulations different from the rules that govern schools.

“RALLY has a lot more requirements,” Olin said.

She cited per-child space requirements, staffing ratios, and rules about lighting as heat as some of the regulations that RALLY must comply with to follow guidelines established by the Department of Health and Social Services, the state agency that regulates daycare centers.

But, she said that offering a licensed daycare facility makes it possible for people who are eligible for tuition assistance to take advantage of those programs.

“That’s the issue people have trouble understanding,” Olin said. “We are a licensed daycare center.”

Changes underway

Historically, the school district has offered RALLY after school at each elementary school site and at select locations for morning care.

However, beginning Oct. 25, three sites will consolidate into one location in the afternoon due to reduced enrollment.

Students who attend Mendenhall River Community School and Riverbend Elementary School will take a bus to Sít’ Eetí Shaanàx – Glacier Valley Elementary School for the RALLY program.

“It is unusual to have to consolidate,” Olin said. “We usually have it at all six sites in the afternoon.”

She said that the Mendenhall River and Riverbend sites will be suspended, not closed.

She said that if the Glacier Valley programs grow too large, the school has the option to open the site again.

Making it work

Olin, who joined the district about seven months ago, said she’s taking a fresh look at the program.

“We aren’t trying to close the program. But, we are trying to make it more sustainable. We are doing an analysis to figure out the best options,” Olin said.

She said that options on the table include expanding the program to include Pre-K students and exploring partnerships with community organizations.

The program consolidation at Glacier Valley is an experiment that could prove instructive.

She said if the consolidation reduces cost, the district will review parent pricing. And, if enrollment grows, the program can be expanded at the locations where the program is not currently in place.

“I know cost is the biggest cause of parent upset,” she said.

Olin said that one of the issues facing RALLY is that the district offers other after-school programs, such as Connect and Juneau Alaska Music Matters, which are free for families.

However, she said those programs often end at 5, before many parents can retrieve children and don’t offer services every day or during school breaks.

She said it’s common for students to attend Connect and then head to RALLY when the program ends and use RALLY on Fridays.

• Contact reporter Dana Zigmund at dana.zigmund@juneauempire.com or 907-308-4891.

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