Putnam City Schools is offering a benefit that saves its teachers an estimated $4,000 a year and as an additional bonus brings them peace of mind. And even though the benefit is significant, it’s one that few other Oklahoma school districts provide: district-operated child care.
Putnam City’s child development center first opened many years ago as a place to provide care for the young children of teen parents who are also district students. In time the center also began to serve children of adults who take literacy classes in the same building. Three years ago district officials realized they had room to expand the center to provide needed care for the children of district teachers.
“What we saw at the district level was that we have many young teachers in our district with at least one child and sometimes two in childcare. In the past, a teacher in Oklahoma could not afford childcare for two on the salary they earned. Even now with the recent teacher raise it’s not easy. This is a way we could really help our teachers. It saves a ton of money for them and yet that there is little to no cost to the district,” says Patty Balenseifen, the district’s chief of Human Capital.
Teachers pay for child care in Putnam City just as they would at any child care facility, but they pay much less. For one thing, the district isn’t trying to make a profit on the child care – it’s simply trying to break even. More importantly, the child development center is open and closed on a schedule that matches the district schedule. That means teachers who will have their children at home during Christmas break, spring break and other days school is not in session don’t have to pay a child care center to keep their spot. Even more importantly, teachers don’t have to pay for summer child care they won’t use just to make sure they have child care in the fall when they need it.
Kelly Suchy, the director of several Putnam City programs for children birth to age 4, says one father of a child cared for in the center told her he “felt like they hit the childcare jackpot.”
Other parents agree. Sara Ligon, a teacher at Putnam City High School, has a young daughter in the district’s child development center. She says she and her husband love it.
“It’s close, convenient, extremely affordable and has small classes. The teachers genuinely love our daughter as if she was their own, and we love the diversity our little girl is part of every day,” Ligon says.
This year the district added additional child development center space at a district elementary school farther north. The school has an infant room that is used to provide care for as many as eight infants and a room for 1-year-olds that can hold up to 12. Plans call for adding care for 2-year-olds in the 2019-2020, and then for 3-year-olds in the 2020-2021 school year.
“That’s for continuity both for children and parents. A child could start there as an infant and stay until they move on to pre-k there, and perhaps even beyond,’” Suchy says.
Balenseifen says the reasons for the district to provide low-cost care for children of teachers are many. It raises teacher morale, improves attendance and lowers turnover rates. In addition, she says, research shows that employee productivity increases when parents are not worried about their child’s safety.
“We realize that our employees are our greatest asset and that child care benefits are a huge factor for many working parents when deciding where to work. It only makes sense. When parents have good care for their children, care that they trust and care that is affordable, their lives are easier,” Balenseifen says.