2nd year SPS childcare program starts with confusion for some parents because of one provider’s computer glitch

Published: Aug. 18, 2022 at 6:17 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - Springfield Public Schools’ before-and-after child care program is running into problems just days before the start of a new year.

The program is possible because of $3.4 million in Coronavirus relief funds. The state’s largest school district decided to start the program partly because of the district’s staggering start-and-end times.

The Shine program is a partnership between SPS and four organizations to provide child care during non-school hours for grades K-12. Depending on your child’s school, the organizations providing care are different, including the Boys & Girls Clubs, the Springfield-Greene County Parks Board, the Dream Center, and the YMCA.

But just a week before the fall semester begins, some parents are scrambling to find alternative child care. They’re complaining that they thought they had successfully registered with the YMCA when registration opened in early July, only to find out just before school starts that they are instead on a waiting list.

“I got the same ‘Welcome to YMCA Child Care’ email everybody else got and thought I was O.K. too,” one parent posted on social media. “I called about something else related to that a week-or-so ago and found out my kids weren’t enrolled.”

“The registration is all funneled through our partners,” explained Ben Hackenwerth, the Executive Director of Innovation and Information for Springfield Public Schools. “But my understanding is that it was something connected to the YMCA and the software they use for their registration. I think they’re working out those kinks now, but I’m not aware of any other partners having this same issue. I think it’s isolated there.”

The YMCA’s response to our interview request was to send out an email that included a confirmation of the cause of the registration problem:

“The Y understands the importance of before and after school childcare availability and is committed to working towards the full licensing capacity of 1,013 children.

Since July 1, 2022, the Y has received nearly 1,300 registration forms for the Y Academy program. While many registrations are approved and placed in their respective programs, a waitlist remains for 147 students. The waitlist results from licensing capacity and staffing challenges facing many employers today.

The Ozarks Regional YMCA has state-licensed childcare programs. As such, our staff-to-child ratio must be 1:16; 1 staff member to 16 students. When a school site reaches more than 50 students, an additional staff member must be present (outside of ratio). The Y continues recruiting, interviewing, and onboarding staff to serve these programs. The Y is requesting increased capacity for schools that are at full capacity with the State of Missouri.

The Y offers state subsidies for Y Academy programs not within the Springfield Public Schools district. The SHINE program is utilized for the 19 sites the Y serves in Springfield Public Schools. The SHINE program will cover those that qualify for state subsidy.

Beginning this school year, the Y transitioned to a new online registration system. During registration, we discovered coding errors the software engineers failed to implement as outlined in our requirements. One specific programming glitch allowed enrollment at school sites already at the State-mandated capacity limits and/or our staffing ratios.

The Y continues to urgently do all we can to support the region-wide childcare shortage, particularly before and after-school care.

Youth Development remains a foundation element of the Y Mission. We are excited about the upcoming school year and our role in supporting students and their families across the region.”

The programming glitch that allowed over-enrollment at schools already at capacity is critical because all the child care providers have a limited number of students they can serve.

Here is the list provided by SPS from their latest data on August 8:

Boys & Girls Clubs- 747 students enrolled, 80 on waiting list

YMCA- 1,013 students enrolled, 147 on waiting list

SPARC (Park Board)- 373 students enrolled, 23 on waiting list

Dream Center- 84 students enrolled, 4 spots still open

From that data, you will notice that every provider except for the Dream Center has a waiting list and that the YMCA, which serves the most students, also has the largest waiting list.

Overall the school district of 25,000 expects to have about 2,400 students in its child care programs this year, with about 250 on the waiting list.

And as to the reasons behind those limitations?

“We have capacity issues depending on the size of the building we’re providing the program in,” Hackenwerth said. “But workforce shortages are probably the biggest challenge.”

In addition, any SPS student who qualifies for free-or-reduced price meals is also eligible for scholarships to help pay for child care.

“We have agreements with all those partners that allow us to provide that service for our families,” Hackenwerth pointed out.

As to the future of the Shine program?

“I don’t think they need (for more childcare) is going away,” Hackenwerth answered. “I hope that our capacity will increase with additional partners. Getting schedules to align with school start-and-end times has always been something that parents have had to navigate, and as we’ve adjusted our times, we want to make sure to provide this service.”

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