Shorewood — The Shorewood School District is exploring the possibility of ending its child care contract with Milestones Programs for Children to create its own before- and after-school programming.
Milestones, which was founded by Shorewood parents in 1979, provides wraparound programming for the district's Bright Beginnings Preschool and 4-year-old kindergarten program, as well as before-and after-school programs for children as old as sixth grade. Milestones also offers summer programs for children as old as seventh grade. Milestones pays the district $56,000 a year to rent space at Lake Bluff and Atwater elementary schools for this programming.
Shorewood School District Superintendent Bryan Davis introduced the possibility of ending the district's contract with Milestones on Dec. 13, and a week later on Dec. 20, the school board held a public hearing on the matter. Davis plans to make a decision on the contract by Jan. 1, when its contract with Milestones automatically renews for another year. The school board does not plan to take a vote on the matter, as the decision to manage contracts is within the scope of Davis' authority.
The Whitefish Bay School District ended its 33-year relationship with Milestones three years ago, and has saved $250,000 per year by providing before- and after-school programming through its recreation department. The Whitefish Bay Recreation Department's fee schedule is roughly $7 or $8 cheaper per week compared with Milestones, and Shorewood believes it can create similar savings for families.
Shorewood expects to save $145,000, but that estimate could range anywhere from $50,000 under a worst-case scenario to $200,000 under a best-case scenario, said Patrick Miller, the district's business manager. Part of the reason why Shorewood expects to achieve lower costs is by relying on existing staff, such as payroll and benefits specialists, to handle some of the workload.
Miller and Davis said the proposal was not driven by fiscal reasons.
"We aren’t looking at this as a money-making venture," Miller said. "We are looking at this as an opportunity to provide a service that is within what we currently do."
The district's new child care venture would be provided through the Shorewood Recreation Department. Any savings would go toward the part of the budget reserved for the Shorewood Recreation Department.
Shorewood Recreation Department Director Deb Stolz said Shorewood's child care services would be comparable to Milestones' services. Similar to Milestones, the district will provide year-round child care from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Thirteen parents spoke at the public hearing on Dec. 20, and all but one of them supported the continuation of Milestones' before- and after-school programming. Many of the parents questioned whether the recreation department will be able to achieve its expected savings, provide the same level of service or recruit the caliber of personnel they have grown accustomed to through the Milestones program.
Parent Seth Flaaten was one of several parents who said they would like to see more details about the district's proposal before making the switch away from Milestones.
"You'll have to offer something much better than what we already have to make it worth your while, to invest in something like that," he said. "It requires creating a program. It requires recruiting new teachers. It requires all of the infrastructure that is required, which is no small investment. Milestones has been here, and they have proven they can do what needs to be done."
Silke Cole said her children had an excellent experience with Milestones, but did not have a similar reaction with the summer programming offered through the recreation department.
"I personally would rather pay what I'm currently paying and know that I'm getting excellent care," she said.
Several parents told stories of eating dinner with Milestones teachers and maintaining friendships with teachers after their children had aged out of the program. Mark Peine was one of three parents who said his child insisted on visiting a former Milestones teacher during a trip to California.
"She begs us not to big her up too early," Peine said. "She has very deep connections with her teachers, and it's a very powerful program."