For Schools Serving as Emergency Childcare Centers, Costs Are Escalating

By Daarel Burnette II — April 02, 2020 2 min read
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State and local leaders are scrambling to provide childcare for emergency healthcare workers and public school buildings have become the likely targets for setting up childcare centers.

But some school officials are asking politicians to reconsider using K-12 buildings as staffing and cleaning costs associated with the pandemic continue to pile up for districts.

Because federal and state officials are restricting gatherings to no more than 10 people, childcare centers can take up several rooms in a building, depending on how many children are being cared for.

With every room that’s in use, district officials have to pay janitors to clean and sanitize every nook and cranny of those spaces daily. Many of these janitors, because of their contracts with the district, are now deemed essential workers and must be paid either overtime or double time.

Now that federal officials expect the shutdown to last at least for another month, cleaning costs, which weren’t factored into this year’s budget, are expected to climb into the hundreds of thousands (and possibly millions) of dollars for some districts.

“If the governor says they’re going to provide us funds to keep everybody employed, that doesn’t include all the extra cleaning, repairs and maintenance costs that we have to do,” said Sharie Lewis, the director of business services and operations of the Parkrose school district in Oregon. Lewis had attempted to lock up most of her school buildings once they were cleaned, but reopened them to allow a local provider to run a childcare center for healthcare workers.

In Maryland, county executives have gone to war with State Superintendent Karen B. Salmon who doesn’t want to reopen schools to serve as emergency childcare centers.

“Every one of our counties includes the use of school buildings as part of our disaster response plan,” executives of the state’s largest counties said in a letter to Salmon. “Please don’t prevent us from using them in this instance.”

But Salmon said using school facilities is dangerous since the coronavirus can spread through schools’ HVAC systems, requiring the cleaning of every room in the building (experts disagree with that assessment).

Salmon has instead identifed more than 1,200 locations across the state that she says can be used as childcare centers, including YMCAs, libraries, recreation enters, and other facilities.

Washington D.C. officials are paying the traditional public school system $150-$200 per child per day to provide childcare services for emergency workers, according to the Washington Post.

Indiana’s state superintendent has encouraged, but not required, every district in the state to reopen one school for childcare services.

And in New York, private childcare centers are taking up the call to reopen and watch over emergency workers’ children, though their facilities are having a hard time paying the associated labor and cleaning costs, according to local media reports. The state’s Health and Human Services have promised to pick up some of the costs.

School districts are also seeing technology and food service costs rise and are bracing for a recession, which they expect will result in significantly less revenue in the coming years.

Photo: Lenora Vallejos cleans chairs at Bruce Randolph School on Thursday, March 19, 2020, in Denver, Colo. --AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post

A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.