AUGUSTA — The city’s childcare program may be expanding to help working parents handle hybrid school schedules.

Under Augusta schools’ current reopening plan, there will only be in-person classes for students two days a week, and parents are looking for a safe place for their children to be during the rest of the week where they can also get help with their online learning.

“With the school’s hybrid reopening plan, there’s a gap there that families are looking to have filled,” said Bethany Sproul-LeBrun, child care director for the city of Augusta’s child care program based at Buker Community Center. “We need to reassure the children and families we are here for them and we will help fulfill that need.”

When the school year starts, the city’s child care program normally scales back to before- and after-school care offerings. But Sproul-LeBrun said parents have been calling daily wondering what they will do with their children on the three weekdays when they won’t be in a school building.

So she has proposed the city make its program full time during the school year, offering up to about 90 children a place to be on their remote learning days.

Sproul-LeBrun anticipates demand for the all-day child care program, which ranges in fees to parents from $100 to $140 a week, will surpass the 90 or so spots they’ll have for kids.


As staff has done with summer child care programming, she said staff will prioritize the admittance of children. Kids of essential workers, such as those in public safety and medical jobs, as well as “high-needs” children who may not be in a safe environment without the program, Sproul-LeBrun said, would get first priority.

“We know we won’t be able to be a solution for everyone,” she said. “We need to support the people in the community who are holding our community together — first responders, medical professionals and, now, teachers. We have to be a resource and a safety net.”

When they have to turn away a family, Sproul-LeBrun said staff works to help them try to find child care elsewhere.

To take on the additional work, the city would need to add five full-time staff members. The cost to add the positions, which would include salary and benefits, and make other changes to the program would cost about $550,000.

Community Services Director Leif Dahlin said those costs could be covered by COVID-19 relief funds. If not, he said, it could be managed by taking money from the child care program’s fund balance. Fund balance accounts are generally made up of funds unspent in previous years and reserved for emergency uses.

Sproul-LeBrun said the summer child care program has already gotten some COVID-19 relief funds from the federal CARES Act and there is a strong likelihood more will become available that could help pay the costs of expanding child care.


City councilors expressed support for the proposal, noting it could help families struggling to handle the pandemic, and the need to provide for the care and virtual education of children.

“There are so many unknowns we’re faced with, child care, school, it gets overwhelming at times, how many things we have to consider,” At-Large Councilor Darek Grant said. “It really is a community effort; we need to take this on.

“No matter the challenges, it seems like we’re rising up to meet them,” he added. “You and your staff are community heroes.”

The program will also include education, with staff members conducting learning labs during the day to help students complete their virtual learning tasks. The Buker Community Center has already upgraded its Wi-Fi system and other enhancements are forthcoming to ensure children will be able to use their school-supplied laptops to do online school work.

As a mother of two, Sproul-LeBrun said she understands how hard it can be for a working parent to, after working all day, come home and oversee their child’s online learning.

She said the city’s program may also include child care options for teachers’ children, who will need care options for they days when they teaching in school, but their kids are learning remotely.


And, the program could potentially transition to offer more online learning if COVID-19 becomes more prevalent and schools go back to remote learning as they did last March.

Councilors, all of whom agreed to sponsor the proposal, could vote to approve it as soon as their meeting next week.

“Thank you for your sincere concern,” Ward 4 Councilor Eric Lind said to Sproul-LeBrun. “It’s good that someone can go to work and not worry and focus on their job and succeed there and be able to drop the kid off in a safe place.”

Enrollment for it could start as soon as next week, too. If the program moves forward, parents will be able to complete an online application at The program would take children from Kindergarten through grade six.

The city’s child care program closed in March when concerns about the spread of the coronavirus hit Maine, but reopened in June after the state released guidelines under which day cares could reopen.

Modifications made to allow the program to reopen during the pandemic included reducing the number of children in each of the program’s five classrooms to allow for social distancing, ensuring groups of children don’t interact with each other, and, starting about two weeks ago, requiring children in the program to wear masks while in public indoor areas.

Sproul-LeBrun said children in the program “have been phenomenal” about wearing masks largely without complaint, though some have needed reminders.

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