School district, parents feeling impacts of child care labor shortages

·5 min read

Aug. 5—EAGLE LAKE — Eagle Lake parent Jennifer Bromeland was one of hundreds to receive a letter a week ago from the Mankato Area Public Schools district saying the ACES child care program her kids are enrolled in is struggling to meet staffing demands and she might have to look for other options in the fall.

Bromeland, who works full time as Eagle Lake's city administrator, said like many other working parents, her family would be significantly impacted without child care options, adding that having school-aged care provides stability so that families don't have to worry about care while at work.

"Unless you have the luxury of having a really flexible work schedule that allows you to be able to leave work when school lets out, I think it will have a significant impact on working families," she said.

Though she's not on a waitlist yet, Bromeland said she has begun searching for alternative options in case she needs to. Still, she added, she's worried about not having the care her kids have come to love at the neighborhood school.

"I think it's just a safe, structured environment that really helps our youth thrive," she said. "I'm not sure what I'll do if there is no ACES care. That's something we're currently looking at options for. Going through that process I don't think we're going to find anything comparable to the high-quality care that we have with ACES right now."

ACES, which provides before and after school care in the fall and full-time care during the summer, opened its fall registration back in May.

Director of Community Education Audra Nissen Boyer said that within 24 hours of registration opening, they closed it.

"We had met our thresholds that we felt we could comfortably serve with our past staffing capacities," she said.

Over the course of the summer, ACES engages with existing staff members, who are typically students age 16 through seniors in college, to gauge who will be returning in the fall.

During the fall, ACES typically employs close to 250 people on a part-time basis and serves all 10 elementary sites.

In a typical year, the majority of staff come back, but Boyer said this year, that has not been the case.

"We currently have a fourth of our existing workforce telling us that they are not coming back to work for us in the fall, citing a multitude of reasons," she said.

One reason, Boyer noted, was students' schedules not matching up with work hours.

The district hires new people every season, but Boyer also said applications aren't coming in at a volume they've historically seen by this time in the summer.

Boyer said typically the district would see about 20 applications a week, but this year, they are only averaging about four a week.

"We're just not hiring or replacing the staff that we're losing at a volume that has historically been our standardized practice," she said.

Recognizing how close the district was to the beginning of the school year, Boyer said they decided to notify families.

"We felt it was our responsibility to notify families of this situation, so that families who do have an opportunity to make a different choice can make a different choice," she said.

As of now, 825 families are registered for the fall semester.

Boyer said the district is confident in being able to provide ACES this upcoming school year, but they're not confident in being able to provide full care, which means before school and after school care at all sites.

The district is starting to make decisions on a site-by-site basis.

"So looking at staff that we have available to us at this time and then the number of students that are currently accepted to the program versus the number of students we can appropriately staff at this time," Boyer said. "It's really a matter of informing families of where we are at. We're not going to be making any determination for a family at this point in time. It's sharing with them that at this point in time we have X number of staff to serve, X number of students at this school site. What that means is at this point in time we will need to move your family to a waiting list."

Right now, the district said about 230 students are on the waiting list.

Director of Administrative Services John Lustig said right now the district is utilizing every outreach method possible to attract new potential staff members.

"The more people that are aware that this may be a fit for what they're interested in, maybe they didn't realize that we had job opportunities that were not eight-hour day jobs. This is one example, so just to alert people that we do have jobs that are not your traditional 9-to-5 Monday through Friday that might fit with somebody's schedule," he said.

As a city employee, Bromeland said she also sees the impact the labor shortage is having on the child care industry across the region.

She said collaboration between schools, cities, legislators and organizations is important.

"We just need to really look at the investments that we're making in child care across the board and making sure that the school-aged care doesn't get forgotten," she said.

While Bromeland just started exploring for alternative options, she said she's hopeful the situation takes a turn for the better.

"Hopefully enough people will be able to find out about these opportunities for employment and fill some of those voids," she said.

The job listing can be found on the school district's website at isd77.org and then search for employment opportunities.