A link in the borough’s child care chain for almost four decades has been broken.
Children in the Haddonfield School District who require before-and-after-school care will no longer be looked after by Haddonfield Child Care. The board of education voted to end its contract with that provider, effective June 30. The new provider will be Maryland-based AlphaBEST Education.
A statement issued by the board prior to the vote, which occurred at its April 30 virtual meeting, said, in part:
“The community, building leaders, administration and Board of Education are very grateful for their service to our children, and greatly appreciate the contribution they have made to the Haddonfield community. As difficult as the decision to change providers is, we must consider multiple factors when making an informed decision.
“After a thorough search process, including reviews of proposals, in-person interviews, reference checks and careful deliberation by a committee of 10 members, the district has chosen to award the contract to AlphaBEST Education. They have a well-designed curriculum developed to give students the opportunity for enrichment — with no additional cost to families — as well as the flexibility to enjoy downtime in a safe, relaxed environment.”
HCC is a non-profit organization founded by Haddonfield parents in 1985 that has served several generations of children in borough schools. Its contract with the district was set to expire at the end of the current academic year.
The school board had initiated a request-for-proposal process for the before-and after-care programs in February, 2020. On April 27, the HCC Board of Trustees learned the provider was not awarded the contract.
“It’s a state rule that you can’t just let a contract hang out indefinitely,” board President Adam Sangillo explained on April 30. “You have to re-bid your contracts; you have to see what’s out there. It’s a state-mandated practice. We said as a board, it’s not going to be bad practice to do that.
“We wanted to go into this with an open mind, to give our students the best,” he added. “However, the BOE was pulling for HCC more than anyone, simply for the fact that no one wants to be here having this conversation.
“We respect the long history and great work HCC has done. It made a big difference for many families.”
Sangillo said the board received multiple correspondences, including two emails right before its meeting, and mentioned a push on social media for residents to send emails about reconsidering its decision. About two-thirds of respondents expressed displeasure, while the other third revolved around asking when child care would start and about extended-day kindergarten.
According to the new agreement, confirmed by HCC board President Kathy Morris, HCC will continue to provide the extended-day kindergarten program for the 2020-’21 school year and all families who are registered for EDKP in the fall will keep their spots. In addition, Donna Marie Clancy will maintain her position as executive director of EDKP.
Morris spelled out two main sources of HCC’s contention regarding the new deal.
“The thing that baffled us was the difference in ratio between AlphaBEST and HCC,” she explained. “The state requirements (for teacher to student ratio) is 15-to-1. HCC was always 10-to-1 but Alpha is 15-to-1, and we’re also disappointed in the amount of academic work as opposed to downtime in their proposal.”
Borough resident June Vick, who had three children progress through the district and was a co-founder and former board member of the HCC, expressed her dismay during the public comment portion of the BOE meeting, saying:
“I was stunned to hear that HCC, steady and reliable partners of the district, has been dropped, in favor of the for-profit company. What AlphaBEST offers sounds very academic, and their marketing materials are undoubtedly designed to appeal to parents who are hyper-competitive.
“In my opinion,” she added, “the already high-achieving children in Haddonfield need some time for downtime and activities that are not academic.”
According to the school board, AlphaBest had guaranteed a minimum of $55,000 for the use of district facilities, whereas, in the past, the district received no money for use of facilities by child-care services.
According to the BOE release, AlphaBEST said it is committed to hiring staff from HCC to ease the transition for children under its care. Morris, who denied any such notification or conversation took place between Alpha and the HCC, said it would be happy if AlphaBEST did find space to hire HCC staff members, for the good of the children.
The HCC Board of Trustees was to meet May 5 to discuss the next steps in the organization’s dissolution. Morris said its main goal was to review the future of EKDP, beyond the upcoming academic year.
“I think there would have been a bigger response, but given we’re in the middle of a pandemic and people have bigger things to focus on, I feel that’s why there wasn’t as big an issue in the community,” Morris added. “The board has been changing things over the last few years in terms of charging fees for using the space, and maybe the community’s fatigued.”
A presentation made by Sangillo outlining the board’s reasons for the decision, as well as the services AlphaBest offers, is available on the district’s website: https://haddonfieldschools.org/announcements-and-news-releases/.