Haywood Schools to end cheap childcare incentives for teachers
An innovative tool to help recruit the best and brightest teachers to Haywood County has become too costly for the school system to continue in light of education budget cuts in recent years.
Haywood County Schools plans to end a program that offered discounted childcare for school teachers. The program has been in place for 14 years.
The annual overhead costs and ongoing maintenance of the building that houses the childcare center is no longer affordable, according to Assistant Superintendent Dr. Bill Nolte.
“To maintain that facility is more than we feel like we can invest with ongoing budget cuts,” Nolte said. The school system has lost $6 million in annual funding since 2008, largely due to state cuts.
Haywood County Commissioner Mark Swanger lamented the end of the program. Swanger was on the school board when it was conceived and remembered one young teacher with twins who took a job in Haywood County because of the affordable child care.
“That was the deciding factor for her,” Swanger said.
Nolte agreed it was an excellent incentive, but is one the school system can no longer justify.
“We had more teachers at that time and had a significantly larger budget at that time,” Nolte said.
The number of teachers using the discounted childcare program has declined over the past decade. At its high-water mark, it served nearly 60 children of school system employees. That number is now around 35.
“We have had a pretty significant decrease in the number of teachers who use that program,” Nolte said.
It’s not surprising, given the loss of more than 100 teaching positions overall in Haywood County due to budget cuts over the past seven years.
But there’s other factors that have led to fewer teachers taking advantage of the child care incentive.
Fewer total teaching positions mean fewer job openings — and that means fewer young teachers being hired, who were more likely to have small children.
Also, job losses during the recession led to lower demand for childcare overall. In households with two working parents, if one lost their job, they didn’t need daycare anymore for their kids. It also became easier to tap out-of-work relatives to help with childcare.
A win-win, for a while
The childcare incentive for teachers relies on a unique arrangement between the school system and the Southwestern Child Development Commission. Southwestern runs the childcare program, and the school system provides a facility at no cost.
In exchange for a free building from the school system to house the childcare center, Southwestern would give discounted rates to school employees.
It is housed on the campus of the former Hazelwood Elementary School. When a new school was built, a portion of the old school — namely the kindergarten building — was turned into the childcare center, known as the Hazelwood Early Care and Education Center.
It’s not just for teachers’ kids. Around 95 children from birth to age 5 are enrolled at the childcare center, but only about 35 are the children of school employees receiving the discounted rate.
In addition to the annual cost of insurance, utilities and upkeep for the building, the school system was facing two big-ticket repairs that proved the tipping point.
“The air conditioning needs a major upgrade and the roof needs replacing, so those are the major costs,” said School Board Attorney Pat Smathers. “It has been declining, but there are no funds or capital to keep the building up.”
So the school system has decided to divest itself of the building. The school system had to give the county first right of refusal on the building.
School officials came to the county commissioners meeting this week and asked the county if they wanted it, but the county commissioners said the county has no use for the building.
That clears the way for the school system to unload it.
Nolte said he hopes Southwestern will make a bid for the building and continue to operate a childcare center there.
It is one of 11 childcare sites run by the Southwestern Child Development Commission in the seven western counties.
If Southwestern takes over the building, it is unclear how the added cost of overhead and maintenance would impact families who go there — namely whether the cost would go up and whether it would continue to give discounts to school system employees.