Pinellas schools to offer day care for district employees starting in July

If the initiative succeeds at the Pinellas Secondary School site, it could expand in future years, officials said.

Tampa Bay Times | By Jeffrey S. Solochek | April 16, 2024

LARGO — Pinellas County school district employees with young children soon will have a new, more affordable option for their day care needs.

The district is expanding its scope to include daylong child care services for kids ages 12 months to 48 months, beginning in late July.

“Right now our teachers are being impacted by affordability and they are being impacted by family responsibility,” school board chairperson Laura Hine said Tuesday during a workshop presentation on the idea. “This is a natural fit. This is a huge, huge move to recruit and retain our employees.”

The idea comes as part of the district’s plan to overhaul the use of Pinellas Secondary School, an alternative school in Pinellas Park to help students with academic and behavior issues.

Last year, the district began reassigning students in the involuntary discipline program who live north of Ulmerton Road to the Calvin Hunsinger School in Clearwater, which had been under capacity. This year, it intends to send students who live south of Ulmerton to Richard L. Sanders School in Pinellas Park, which also has unused classrooms.

That would leave Pinellas Secondary without students.

“Then it’s how are we going to utilize this facility?” said Deputy Superintendent Stephanie Woodford.

She noted that the district has taken several steps in recent years to help its employees, including a plan to provide affordable housing and offering access to free prekindergarten programs.

“Our teachers are in and out. At one point at one of our schools we had nine teachers on maternity leave,” she said. “This is the next step.”

The entrance to Pinellas Secondary School at 8570 66th St. N in Pinellas Park. Pinellas school officials plan to repurpose the school in July 2024, turning it into a daycare center for school district employees.
The entrance to Pinellas Secondary School at 8570 66th St. N in Pinellas Park. Pinellas school officials plan to repurpose the school in July 2024, turning it into a daycare center for school district employees. [ Google Maps ]

The plan calls for beginning with 160 seats — four classrooms of 1-year-olds, five classrooms of 2-year-olds and three classrooms of 3-year-olds. It would offer the positions to employees based on their percentage of the district staff, or approximately 54% for teachers, 42% for support staff and 4% for administrators.

The cost would be about half of the average child care expense at other Pinellas County providers. Woodford projected that after accounting for reduction in transportation and some staff positions at Pinellas Secondary, and adding in the fees, the program should be self sufficient.

Superintendent Kevin Hendrick acknowledged the initial effort would not reach all employees. But if it proves successful, he said, the possibility for expansion is real.

That includes partnerships with businesses.

Hendrick said his conversations with chamber of commerce and business leaders as recently as a week ago revealed high interest for affordable child care in the community.

“There is a possibility that once we can get this up and running, and if there is space in other buildings, this is something we might be able to replicate,” he said.

Jennifer Mekler, the district director of early education programs, said a team is working out the details including licensing needs and application protocols. She expected communication to employees would come shortly.

School board members welcomed the proposal, saying it was much needed.

“I am very excited about this for all of our staff and faculty,” said board member Stephanie Meyer, who added she knows how expensive day care services can be, because of her youngest child. “This is a fantastic benefit.”

Board member Caprice Edmond said she was pleased to see the district listening to employee needs and acting accordingly.

“We have had teachers leave because they cannot find that care,” Hine added. “This is really important.”

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