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Spokane after-school program on the chopping block as district deals with budget issues, pandemic

UPDATED: Fri., June 5, 2020

The Spokane Public Schools district office at Main Avenue and Bernard Street is seen Tuesday, Sept. 24. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
The Spokane Public Schools district office at Main Avenue and Bernard Street is seen Tuesday, Sept. 24. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

The SHOP appears to be closing at Spokane Public Schools.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, the after-school program that’s short for Snack, Homework and Organized Play had allowed hundreds of elementary students to remain at school on early-release Fridays.

Uncertainties over what school will look like this fall left staff pessimistic Wednesday night that the program will return this fall.

Like other districts, Spokane is awaiting guidance from the state superintendent’s office, which is expected to offer a clearer picture next week of how schools may return to in-school learning.

One model getting the most attention is an alternating schedule that sends only a portion of a school’s students to the building on any given day, with the others staying home.

“Keeping it like we had last year, it has some issues in terms of the schedule,” Superintendent Shelley Redinger told board members during a meeting that covered several vexing issues related to next year’s budget and the uncertainties caused by the coronavirus.

The after-hours program was established after the district changed its elementary school specialist model in response to the fiscal crisis of 2019.

Praised as innovative by several board members, it was a godsend to working parents, but it appears that the COVID-19 crisis will force its termination.

“We are looking at what the options are,” Redinger said. “I don’t think we have the answers tonight.”

There are bound to be more questions.

“I think child care is going to be one of the top issues in this COVID crisis,” Associate Superintendent Adam Swinyard said.

In the short term, the district has addressed the issue of summer child care by extending services at four current sites to children of first responders and essential medical personnel.

From June 24 through Aug. 21, the district will continue to accommodate up to 30 children at four elementary schools – Lincoln Heights, Roosevelt, Finch and Garfield.

The program will be self-sustaining, with a $45 daily fee per child.

Daily activities include on-site indoor and outdoor activities that support social distancing of 6 feet for participants and staff.

The child care issue was part of a larger discussion about next year’s budget, which is forecast to run at an $11.8 million deficit that would reduce the district’s fund balance almost in half, down to $14.4 million.

The district, however, offered a menu of targeted reductions totaling $2.6 million. Almost half of that – $1.2 million – would derive from staffing adjustments and reorganization in the central administrative office.

Other savings could come from canceled curriculum and assessments, contracted services and professional development.

In a response to the COVID-19 crisis, however, the district is proposing an increase of $300,000 in its custodial budget.

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