School start times are changing for students on the Southern Peninsula this fall. Younger students will be getting out earlier than in past years, and with the first day of school just a couple of weeks away, some parents are scrambling to find a place for their kids to go after school. A coalition of businesses and non-profits in the Homer area are working to solve that problem.
Around Homer, elementary students will be getting out of class at about 2:30 p.m., and without a centralized location for after-school activities, parents will have to either pay for daycare or find an activity for their kids to participate in.
Kate Crowley has two boys who attend West Homer Elementary and is one of many parents grappling with the issue. Her husband does work from home, but she said it would be beneficial to have transportation to get her kids to after-school activates her husband doesn’t need to stop working.
“I would like them to be bused safely to whatever activities they would like to do in town,” she said. “There’s many choices for what they would like to be involved in after school, but for a lot of families, there is no one home until the end of work which is usually 5 p.m. or 6 p.m.”
Crowley was one of a few parents who was able to attend a meeting Tuesday with Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Assistant Superintendent Dave Jones and the K-Bay Community Youth Activities Coalition, a group of private businesses and non-profits that formed to provide resources for parents struggling to find a place for their kids to go.
Co-founder Kurt Leffler has a daughter entering kindergarten this fall and a son who will enter school next year. He said without an after-school program, such as a Boys and Girls Club, around homer, parents like him need a resource to find what options are available.
“So our idea was to come together, get a directory going, get a map going of all the locations and advertise freely throughout the community of all these opportunities for community and youth development and activities in general,” he explained.
Leffler’s business, K-Bay Martial Athletics, is one of several groups that is registering with the coalition. The Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies, South Peninsula Athletic & Recreation Center, and the Homer Parks and Recreation Department are among several entities that have hopped on board to see how they can help.
But, this problem isn’t a big surprise. The school district has been planning the change since early 2016. Jones said school start times were changed on the Southern Peninsula mainly to save money.
“We were able to reduce the number of buses by about six buses, a little over $600,000 per year that we’re saving by doing that,” he said.
Those savings are huge after the district lost about $650,000 in transportation funding from the state last year, and it had to backfill that cut with money from its general fund, reducing dollars that can go to the classroom.
With elementary kids getting out earlier this year, a larger burden could be put on parents’ wallets paying for daycare, but money is only half of the battle. Jones explains buses can only drop kids off at licensed daycare facilities located on existing bus routes.
“It’s not supposed to be used to deliver them from school to other activities or other places or facilities, and also, we can’t do that for risk management reasons for the safety of the children,” he said.
At Tuesday’s meeting, coalition and school board member Mike Illg proposed that the coalition provide its own transportation. Illg and other members tossed around the idea of funding an activities bus through Apple Bus Company, which provides transportation services for the district. Jones said such an arrangement has been used on the Central Peninsula, and parents would be able to write permission slips for their children to ride the bus.
A bus running for the entire school year would run about $58,000. Illg said while the cost is high, he thinks there’s enough support in town to raise the funds.
“Yet another fundraiser, but we can do it when people see the reasons why,” he said optimistically.
The coalition will hold an activities fair at the Homer High School on Aug. 16 for parents. Leffler said it will begin aggregating after-school resources on a website its building and on its Facebook page in the coming weeks.