A Mother’s View on MMSD Expansion’s of Safe Haven

On October 8, 2004, Isthmus newspaper ran a story about how the Madison Schools replaced two not-for-profit after school day care programs with its own “Safe Haven” programs run by the Madison School-Community Recreation department.
Jane Sekulski, a mother whose child was in a displaced program, provides her responses to the article. This letter is a longer version of a letter published in Isthmus on November 11.

To the Editor:
As a parent of a 5th grader at Midvale-Lincoln school, I would like to respond to the article “Not just for rich white kids” by Jason Shepard, Oct 8, 2004.
Our school is a “paired” school, meaning that the combined population of both the Midvale and Lincoln neighborhoods attend the Midvale “campus” for grades K-2, and then they attend grades 3-5 at the Lincoln “campus”. The schools are about 8 miles apart.
As a single mother, working full time, I need full time after school child care. For 5 years my son has attended the Wisconsin Youth
Company After School program at the Midvale campus. Grades 3-5 take the regular school bus from Lincoln to the program at Midvale. We live near Midvale.
After School has served Midvale as a K-5 program for 25 years, and over the years its program has gotten better and better. I have had many interactions with staff about issues that have come up, and in some cases my son’s teachers and the school counselor were also
involved. I am glad to say that I respect After School all the more for being able to work out situations with parents, kids and teachers
in a caring and professional way, where it was so obvious that the
most important goal was the welfare of my child.
When a Safe Haven program was started at the Lincoln campus, some years ago, I thought it was great that the Lincoln neighborhood kids
would have a program too. No one has to tell me how much kids benefit from an after school program. I assumed that the Lincoln
Safe Haven was K-5, like After School at Midvale. But, in 2003they started a K-2 Safe Haven program at the Midvale campus, and each day when I picked up my son I saw taxi cabs and Mr. Mom’s vans loading up kids to take them home to the Lincoln neighborhood. Many parents wondered why these kids weren’t taking the regular buses to Lincoln at 3pm to attend the Safe Haven there. It seemed odd — why would Lincoln families prefer to have their kids 8 miles away, and
separated from their siblings in grades 3-5? For one year, Safe Haven and After School both operated programs at Midvale.
In spring of 2004, the K-2 parents were told that After School would
no longer provide care at Midvale, and that instead the care would be
by Safe Haven. The hours of Safe Haven would be until 4:30pm (After School is 5:45). There would be care at ONLY the Lincoln campus on days when the kids are off school. There would be no care anywhere for Spring or Winter break. (After School provides this.) And, the K-2 children would attend the Midvale Safe Haven, while the 3-5 children (like my son) would attend the Lincoln Safe Haven, with transportation home provided back to the children’s home neighborhood.
They were told that the reason for the change was sothat “substantially more” low income kids would be served.
The After School parents of grades 3-5 were not informed of any of this. The principal, alas, forgot to tell us. We heard about it several weeks later, when we got a flyer from MSCR saying that “due to excellent parent input” they had decided to change several things with Safe Haven. Evidently the K-2 parents had something to say.
The hours were increased to match After School’s, and the programs were changed completely to BOTH be K-5 programs, with the children
to attend the one near their homes. The fee structure now allowed for
part time care (which After School had always provided). Full time care was to cost $32/month MORE than After School, while the cost of
Monday-only care would be $50/month LESS than After School had charged.
Many of us met with the principal then and beseeched him to reconsider. We felt that After School had been such a great asset to our community and a very good partner with the school district. We knew that After School was non-profit, and felt it was probably not in the business to make money, but rather that it seemed really devoted to children. The program was by no means “all white rich kids”. One of the lead counselors was African American, and our kids loved him and the other staff, too. We asked why the district couldn’t contract out with After School to serve kids who needed
scholarships. We couldn’t believe that such a good program, with 25 years of experience, was being replaced by a program that didn’t even know that a working parent needs care past 4:30pm.
I pointed out to him that the cost of full time care for me would go up $32/month with Safe Haven, while the ‘Monday-only’ part-time care would be, strangely, $50 less. Later, MSCR changed the full time tuition to match After School’s, but kept the bargain rate for Monday-only care.
The reason After School charges more for fewer days of care seems
obvious — it is less cost effective to staff a program that is tilted to more attendence on Mondays. How does Safe Haven do it? Ah, that is the question. Safe Haven has something that After School doesn’t have — Fund 80.
I requested and received the following figures on the enrollment and expensesat the Lincoln and Midvale Safe Havens, from the director of MSCR:
Lincoln Safe Haven: Total cost in projected budget: $69,047
Revenues: United Way $15,000
Fees paid and Dane County funds: $8,500
Tax Levy: $45,547
Children enrolled: 28
Children on assistance: 23
Children paying full fees: 5
Full time children: 28 out of 28
Midvale Safe Haven: Total cost in projected budget: $87,914
Revenues: United Way $0
Fees paid and Dane County funds: $35,000
Tax Levy: $52,914
Children enrolled 35 (Capacity = 60)
Children on assistance: 3 (2 others unknown yet)
Children paying full fees: 30
Full time children: 10 out of 35
So, even though only 5 out of 35 students at the Midvale program are on public assistance (15%), about 60% of the budget comes from Fund 80 tax levy. More importantly, ONLY 10 of the Midvale children are full time. This is about 30%. For 5 low-income children, scholarships for full time at After School would have been $11,070. This seems a lot less than the $52,914 the tax payers are now
paying for Midvale.
And, as a tax payer, where would you rather have your tax dollars go — to fund a child at Safe Haven, where the Monday-only “rich white kids” pay $50/month LESS, or at After School, where the paying families are pulling their own weight?
MMSD has communicated to me that, “It will take a few more months to get the Midvale program filled up with low-income children, with the help of the school social worker and the principal making referrals and contact with families who need the program.” It is true that the principal may recommend more students to Safe Haven. But for the district to assume that 25 more of them are living near Midvale and will attend the Midvale program is unrealistic — if not impossible.
Much more likely is that new low-income referrals will attend the Lincoln Safe Haven.
Mr. Shepard says in his article that “private providers have not done a good job recruiting students from low-income families who would qualify for scholarships paid for by Dane County and outside grants”. The question is, who is responsible for “recruiting” students for Safe Haven? The Wisconsin Youth Company has said that
they did not turn away any students at the Midvale program last year. Is Wisconsin Youth expected to have a list of students in each school who need after school services, so that they can recruit those that are low-income? But at the same time, does even Safe Haven itself do this? MMSD seems to say that the principals and
social workers at the schools make referrals, not Safe Haven.
Could the principals refer students for subsidized care and ask that they be funded to attend After School instead of Safe Haven? After School has expressed interest in providing such care, including the homework component. Why is it considered ok for Safe Haven to receive Fund 80 tax payer funds to do the job of serving low-income kids, but After School is somehow expected to do that job by
“recruiting students from low-income families who would qualify for scholarships paid for by Dane County and outside grants”?
Jane Sekulski