Every workday, Lori White takes her children to Treasure Mountain Middle School and drops them off - even though they aren't old enough yet, even for kindergarten.
School employees in the district have created a non-profit organization that contracts with the district for child-care space in the middle school. More than 30 children are receiving care in the school, and parents are enthusiastic."It's a wonderful program," said White, who works in the district offices. She is able to do a better job with her own employment because she is comfortable that her children are well cared for. Although she originally had some concerns about mixing babies and toddlers with middle-school students, she has found the arrangement much to her liking. The regular students have become very caring and careful of the little ones in their midst, she said.
The organization does not use the school's food services facilities, she said, but because the children are close, parents often drop by the school to eat with their preschoolers.
Park City Superintendent Ronald McIntyre is very supportive of the child-care arrangement. It helps the district to attract and keep good teachers, he said.
"Having child care available has been good for morale and retention," he said
The use of school space for child care is an issue that has been extensively debated during the current legislative session.
The fact that Park City and some other school districts already have such programs is evidence that even in the absence of a bill, local school boards may approve such use of space.
"The purpose of the bill is to provide guidelines, consistency and protection for children," said Rep. Richard Bradford, R-Sandy.
The measure requires that school districts do not run their own child-care programs and that they charge a commercially competitive fee for the space provided for that purpose. Organizations or agencies that contract for the use of schools for child care must provide proof of liability insurance to protect the school against potential claims.
HB158 has passed the House and awaits Senate action.
During hearings in the House Education Committee, the bill engendered opposition from some groups that believe schools should not be in the child-care business.
Marion Bloomquist of the American Freedom Coalition of Utah said incorporating child care into public schools would involve a lot of expense and is philosophically troubling. It would be a move toward early education of children and in opposition to the majority feeling in Utah that small children should be cared for at home, she said.
Dorothea Masur argued that it would amount to subsidizing working mothers and would create unfair competition for the private sector.
The bill's sponsor, David M. Jones, D-Salt Lake, however, said the availability of space for child care in schools would help fill a real need in the community. The central location of schools would help even out the availability of child care, which is adequate in some places, practically absent in others.
Thousands of children do not have adequate day care while their parents work, he said. The bill contains safeguards and leaves school boards adequate room to terminate day-care provisions if they are unsatisfactory.
Besides the full-care programs of the type offered in Park City, some school districts are offering the use of buildings before and after school for "latch-key" children.
Both Granite and Jordan districts have contracted with Salt Lake County to provide such services for school-age children, but do not have full child-care programs for preschoolers.
Child-care programs in schools would be subject to the same standards the state sets for all such services, proponents said.