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School board talks Learning Center rates

Xavier Smith • May 3, 2018 at 8:33 PM

The Wilson County Board of Education discussed the potential Learning Center rate increase Thursday during its monthly work session prior to Monday’s monthly meeting.

The proposed Learning Center rate increases are included in the proposed Learning Center parent handbook.

“In order to continue providing care for the same number of children at the same number of Learning Center sites as we currently operate, my proposal for the TLC program is to increase rates for the Learning Centers $60 per week per child from the current rates effective July 1, 2018. The discount for multiple children will still apply,” Anne Barger, supervisor of early childhood and family resources, said in an email last month.

The proposed weekly rate for children up to 36 months is $195, and $185 for children 37-60 months. The sibling discount is $20.

“We will try to keep these rates for the current sites through the 2019-2020 school year,” Barger said. “We will consolidate sites based on enrollment and state ratio requirements, if necessary.”

The school board approved a $20 weekly rate increase for its Learning Center last year and voted to keep two locations open until the end of the current school year.
The board voted last May to increase fees for the Learning Center, a childcare program for children of Wilson County teachers until the children reach school age, during a three-year period after school leaders indicated the Kids Club program has subsidized the program in the past few years.

Mickey Hall, Wilson County deputy director of schools, discussed the program during the May 2017 meeting and said the program was introduced as a recruitment and retention tool for educators.

“Back then, we didn’t have the software in place that we could tell them that or not,” Hall said last May. “Now we have the evidence to show the Kids Club is breaking even. TLCs are not.”

Hall continued his discussion on the Learning Center finances Thursday, noting the potential $60 increase could not eliminate issues with the program.

“We do not have one site breaking even in this program. All the sites are losing money. The board of education does not put any money into this program. That’s a misnomer,” he said.

Hal answered questions that have been raised about the program, including the possibility of hiring part-time workers instead of full-time workers, which would eliminate the need to provide insurance and retirement benefits.

He said he felt the switch would not work based on the number of people the district would need to hire, along with the lack of benefits for them.

Board member Bill Robinson said he’s met with several teachers, including former Teacher of the Year winners, who have voiced concern about the potential increase and its impact on teachers. Robinson pointed to the district’s persistence in building a new central office during his comments, noting the district had to find additional funds to complete the project.

“We found a way to get this done, now I think we can find a way somehow. I’m not asking for a tax increase. If we found that $4.5 million, we can find $675,000, and I’m not asking the taxpayers,” he said.

Board member Tom Sottek pointed to teacher pay as a source of the problem, noting teachers would still be faced with detrimental daycare costs if the Learning Center closed and they were forced to use private entities.

The group grappled during the meeting a year ago about the appropriate way to cover the needed funds, estimated at $350,000, which included taking the money from the district’s general purpose fund, raising the fees in one year or eliminating the program, which no board member indicated was a viable option.

Hall said the district raised the program’s rate in 2014 when the board approved a $9.50 an hour starting pay for all school system employees. He said, at the same time, several parents of Kids Club children, the after-school program for school-aged children, said they believed they were supplementing the Learning Center.

Wilson County Director of Schools Donna Wright said Hall worked to create the gradual increase option, which she said would still draw funds from the Kids Club.

However, Barger said at the time the change did not affect the financial situation, which led to a recommendation to close Learning Center locations at Carroll-Oakland School and Mt. Juliet Elementary School, among other changes, including a weekly rate increase. 

Hall said the Learning Center program lost about $194,000 from the beginning of July through the end of October.

“We cannot continue to sustain that. That’s for a quarter,” said Hall, who said the program would cost about $582,000 per year.

The board will vote on the potential increase Monday during its meeting at 6 p.m. at the central office, located at 415 Harding Drive.

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