Big shortage of spots in East Bay district’s after-school program roils parents

Photo of Big shortage of spots in East Bay district’s after-school program roils parents

DUBLIN — It was 45 degrees at about 1 a.m. when parents started lining up outside the building, ready to to weather several hours and dropping temperatures before the doors would open at 9.

They weren’t there for the latest iPhone, the release of a new craft beer or even a Black Friday sale.

What they were hoping for was the chance to register their children in the Extended Day Child Care Center for after-school care at one of Dublin Unified School District’s eight schools.

The 30 or so people who had assembled by the time the doors of Dublin Elementary School finally opened got some grim news: only five were spots available.

One of the lucky parents to snag one of those precious spots was David Hu, who arrived at 2 a.m. and found himself third in line.

“It was totally worth it for us,” said Hu, whose kindergarten son was guaranteed after-school care until fifth grade and whose younger son will get it too when old enough to start school. Younger siblings of students already enrolled automatically get in.

Many others weren’t as fortunate, however, despite also having shivered for hours in the bitter cold covered in blankets and sitting in camping chairs. For all their trouble, they were advised to sign up for the waiting list in case someone later drops out.

Vanessa Sinclair, executive director of Extended Day Child Care Center, said in an interview last week she and others are considering changes in the application process. One option might be a lottery system.

“We don’t want that at all, even though we are a first-come, first-serve,” she said about the all-night camping ritual. “We are seeing that with the growth, parents are coming earlier and earlier. We don’t want that next year.”

The center also is thinking about expanding, particularly at Murray and Frederiksen elementary schools, which are being modernized. Murray has the capacity for 70 after-school students and Frederiksen for up to 120.

“We want to accommodate as many families as possible,” she said.

But as student enrollment in Dublin schools continues to rise in the fast growing city, space in the program is at a premium. Parents pay about $700 a month per child for the center’s after-school services.

This was the first year it registered students separately from kindergarten registration, which Sinclair acknowledged further frustrated parents who had to wait in two lines.

Kim Conley, a parent of two, said she was shocked when she moved to the city in 2015 and discovered how registration was handled. She went to register her children on check-in day a week before school started in the fall, only to discover that after-school care slots had long been filled by then. She put her pre-kindergarten son on a waiting list, but the following year was told those who had already enrolled their children in the center got preference.

Conley, who previously belonged to Dublin Elementary’s Parent Faculty Club, said she complained to then-Superintendent Leslie Boozer, who said she would look into it. Conley said the superintendent eventually told her that for “insurance and liability” reasons, the district wouldn’t provide any more space to expand the program.

When asked for this story if it can do anything to expand after-school services so more students could register, the district referred questions to the Extended Day Child Care Center.

“Our priority is to focus on the education of students in the Dublin Unified School District,” Chip Dehnert, the district’s spokesman, replied in an email. “Our district has grown dramatically over the last decade and that has resulted in the need to maximize the use of available space for our students.”

Conley said that’s not acceptable. The cost of living is too high for one parent to stay home instead of working, she said.

“The city needs to make better preparation as the student population grows; they’re not looking at education,” Conley said. How is it affecting families, and work-life balance? A lot of that includes what the kids are doing at 2 p.m. when school is over, what facilities they have.”

The spots at the center are so coveted that some parents continue to pay for its summer program even if their child doesn’t actually attend, just to remain in the program. One parent said a friend worked from home for a year but still kept paying for the program to keep the child’s spot.

Dublin Elementary has 120 after-school spots, but that number hasn’t grown while enrollment has climbed to 978.

Besides Dublin Elementary, schools in the district where the center operates are Cottonwood Creek, Murray, Frederiksen, Dougherty, Kolb, Green and Amador.

The city of Dublin also provides after-school recreation programs at the schools, but only on days when class is in session.

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