RALLY funding gets a rain check

Funding for the program was pulled from a JSD finance request

A request for $560,000 in CARES Act funding for Relationships and Leadership, Learning for Youth, the Juneau School District’s child care program, was voted out of a funding request Wednesday by the city’s finance committee.

The district was requesting the funds to subsidize employee payroll for the program which can’t enroll as many students due to social distancing guidelines in place because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Enrollment must be kept low due to space and staff limitations. Estimated fee per student is $310/week without this support,” a funding request memo from the district to the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly Finance Committee said.

[With schools online, city looks for child care alternatives]

In past years, RALLY has served working families with students in kindergarten through fifth grade with before- and after-school care, said JSD Board of Education President Brian Holst in an interview. Now because of the pandemic, the district wanted to expand the service to all-day care while parents are working.

But on Monday, Assembly members had a work session — part of which involved creating a framework for child care in Juneau. Several different models, including expanding RALLY services, were discussed at that meeting as was the hiring of a temporary K-5 child care coordinator. Faced with a funding request for child care services after just having discussed the matter separately seemed out of place to some.

“Clearly there’s lots of details to be worked out, I think we should move this to the child care discussion,” said Deputy Mayor Maria Gladziszewski.”

Committee members voted out the $560,000 meant for RALLY, but approved all the other requested items, a total of $700,000 for technology, curriculum and maintenance. The funding request will be sent to the full Assembly for final passage on Sept. 21.

The city can offer 126 spaces in the RALLY program under their current health guidelines, but only eight students have enrolled, JSD Superintendent Bridget Weiss told the committee.

[1st week progress report: teachers and students return to (distanced) school]

“We don’t know how many parents are willing to put their children in daycare,” she said. “We don’t know what the need is, we’re just using what assets we have to support families and be a slice of the solution.”

Asked by Mayor Beth Weldon if the district had reduced its RALLY staff due to low enrollment, Weiss said they would have to if low enrollment continued.

The Economic Stabilization Task Force recently conducted a survey of Juneau families and suggested creating the child care framework and said the city should consider spending up to $60,000 for the temporary coordinator. JSD already received $1 million earlier this year, but this funding request covered additional costs incurred by the school district for things like technology, personal protective equipment and alterations to classrooms and school facilities, according to Holst.

Child care in Juneau was a problem before the COVID-19 pandemic, and closing the schools has only made the problem worse, Holst said. The district is sympathetic to that. There are, however, health considerations to take into concern.

“It was decided 4,700 students in the same place would not be good for the students or good for the community,” Holst said.

Accommodations are being made for students who don’t have internet access at home or for certain classes where distance learning isn’t possible, he said.

• Contact reporter Peter Segall at psegall@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnoEmpire.

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