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Expanded child-care program under study in Bethlehem Area School District

By Len Righi, WFMZ.com Reporter
Published On: Jan 28 2013 10:00:40 PM CST
BETHLEHEM, Pa. -

The idea of expanding Bethlehem Area School District's elementary school child-care program is still in its infancy, but some school directors are giving it an encouraging nudge.

School board member Aurea Ortiz asked the administration to look into the possibility in December, and Monday night, superintendent Dr. Joseph Roy told the board that inquiries are underway. He praised Ortiz for "thinking outside the box."

Board member Irene Follweiler called it "an excellent idea," and board member Sudantha Vidinage also voiced some support.

Roy explained after the school board meeting that the district offers kindergarten and prekindergarten child-care for a fee at every elementary school in the district. Parents can pay anywhere from $14 a day for two-and-half hours to $35 a day for 11-and-half hours. The weekly rates range from $70 to $175. Rates for families with three or more children using the service are less.

Although he is enthusiastic about the idea, Roy said he has yet to meet with district officials about what it would take to offer the child-care to children as young as 4. He stressed that the child-care plan would not have an educational component, as the prekindergarten program does. But, he said, "it will help [develop] their social skills, such as learning how to be at their desk at the appropriate time."

Roy said the district will investigate if the state Department of Public Welfare might have grants available for parents who would want to place their children in the program. "The idea is to make the program self-sustaining," he noted.

In other business, Roy informed the board that a search will begin to replace two veteran administrators who are planning to retire at the end of the school year -- Nitschmann Middle School principal Jacqueline Santanasto and Farmersville Elementary School principal Michele Fragnito.

He noted that the next discussion of the 2013-14 budget will at a meeting of the board's finance committee at 6 p.m. Feb. 11 in Freedom High School.

Two weeks ago, board was presented with a proposed $224.6 million budget that has an $8.19 million deficit that officials blame mostly on mandated employee pension contributions and higher costs for health care and charter schools. The board must decide by next month to apply to the state so it can boost taxes beyond the district's 2.1 percent cap, if necessary.

Roy also said district students who were given the day off Monday because of the snow will have to make up for it by being in class on Feb. 18, President's Day.