Kelly Hobby moved from Miami to Cobb County four years ago to become a teacher at A.L. Burruss Elementary School in Marietta. On days when she has to go to work and students are off, Hobby is left scrambling to find someone to watch her eight-year-old daughter.
With no family nearby, she said,“It’s really hit or miss, and I have to rely on friends I’ve made in my church.”
Hobby and other educators in the Marietta City School System won’t have that problem much longer. In January, the system will begin offering free child care to educators when they have to work on days when classes are not in session.
Although school systems in other states provide childcare for teachers, Marietta appears to be the first school district in Georgia to offer it, according to the Professional Association of Georgia Educators. The perk could help the system with teacher hiring and retention.
For the 2019-2020 school year, Marietta will provide childcare for four days, including pre- and post-planning and professional development days, said Superintendent Dr. Grant Rivera.
The program will be for children ages 4 through 12. The cost to the school district for staffing and programming would be about $9,000 for the school year, system spokeswoman Jen Brock said.
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The child care would be provided by Marietta City Schools staff and contracted employees, as needed. Brock said children who are in kindergarten through sixth grade will likely attend child care at West Side Elementary School while the four-year-olds will go to the Emily Lembeck Early Learning Center.
About 52 children have been signed up for the program so far, which is accepting applications through November.
Rivera said the idea was proposed to him when he was speaking with West Side kindergarten teacher Autumn Martin, who taught his daughter last year. He asked her what the school system could do to support families of Marietta educators. She said one of her biggest struggles is finding child care on teacher work days when students are off.
“It was really that conversation that prompted us to pull together this opportunity for our staff,” he said.
Martin’s four-year-old son is enrolled in the system’s Emily Lembeck Early Learning Center. However, when classes are not in session and she has to work, Martin said her husband either has to take off work or her mother-in-law steps in to help.
Temporary commercial childcare can be a costly solution. Rivera said Martin informed him that day cares traditionally charge people more money if they need someone to watch their child for only one day.
Kamal Parag, co-owner and educational program lead at Kids’ Zone Daycare and Learning Center on Johnson Ferry Road in East Cobb, said his business usually charges lower fees for children who are enrolled full-time compared to kids who are come occasionally.
Those kids are considered “drop-ins” and if you add up those rates, Parag said they come out more expensive than when a child is enrolled for the full week. For example, his agency charges $60 to $85 per day per child for less than three days.
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When it comes to hiring and keeping the best teachers, Rivera said childcare has proven to be an attractive extra.
According to Education Week, federal data from 2013-14 shows more than 38 percent of teachers who left the profession did so because of personal reasons. Of those who left teaching, nearly 1 in 10 say they left work to care for family members, Ed Week states.
A 2014 study done by the University of Californa at Berkeley notes childcare costs rank second behind a home mortgage as the top expenses for the average family, Ed Week adds.
Margaret Ciccarelli, attorney and director of legislative services for the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, the school district’s plan will be a wonderful benefit to educators and their children, as the “escalating” cost of childcare deters many parents from working outside the home.
A school district that understands the importance of high-quality learning starts at an early age will boost morale in its work place and improve teacher retention and recruitment, she said.
“Marietta is the leader in what we hope will be a trend that other school districts will adopt,” she said.
Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC
Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC
For Hobby, the program will bring her “peace of mind.” On some days, Hobby said she’s had as many as three friends take shifts to watch her daughter.
One day, Hobby said one of her friends watching Chloe forgot to retrieve the girl’s EpiPen before taking her to the next babysitter’s location. Once the school’s new program is in place, Hobby said she won’t have to stitch together childcare plans or worry about what could go wrong.
“If employees can have peace of mind, employees can do their jobs better,” she said.
Tricia Fox, who is a teacher at the Early Learning Center, also struggles with finding child care for her three children when classes are not in session. For example, during pre-planning this year, she had to work six days before classes began to prepare for the 2019-2020 school year. Her family had a baby sitter for one day and her parents and husband pitched in to cover the others.
As a working mother, Fox said she believes the school system’s incentive will be beneficial to teachers since it will take another thing off their already overloaded plate.
“It’s a really great way to help us focus on the classroom while making sure our own children are taken care of,” she said.
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Credit: John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com