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R.A.L.L.Y. program pushes for a big comeback

JSD also says spring break will bloom again this March

Posted: February 7, 2012 - 10:31pm  |  Updated: February 8, 2012 - 1:07am

The child-care program known as R.A.L.L.Y. in the Juneau School District that has faced significant cutbacks is making a pushback.

The school board heard about a policy update that directly affects the program Tuesday night.

This fall the district announced it would cut almost all morning R.A.L.L.Y. (Recreation, Arts, Learning, and Leadership for Youth) programs at the elementary schools and cut Mendenhall River Community School’s afternoon program — combining it with Glacier Valley’s afternoon program. A parent group at MRCS formed a committee to combat the decision and find a way to save the program — it bought both Glacier Valley and MRCS time and the afternoon combination was delayed, although morning cuts still took place at the end of winter break.

The parent group has been working with administration and the R.A.L.L.Y. manager and the group has come up with several ideas that would make the program solvent.

"“We did uncover a number of odd accounting issues and policies that have applied to R.A.L.L.Y.,” said Amy Mead, a MRCS parent and also assistant city attorney. “If you consider our proposal, R.A.L.L.Y. can be self-sustaining. It can return to what it was before this process started. I’m very optimistic at this point that we can make it right. I don’t think the process is over, but I appreciate the willingness of the administration to make it better.”

David Means, director of administrative services, admitted that in his research requested by the group he found that R.A.L.L.Y. has been inappropriately charged with indirect administrative costs.

Means said the district has a policy that charges programs that are primarily grant funded for indirect costs. The policy currently reads that programs that do not fall under that umbrella — such as R.A.L.L.Y., which is 98 percent user-fee funded — are not allowed to be charged for indirect costs. R.A.L.L.Y. has been charged since 1999. The remaining 2 percent is funded by state grants, however it is not considered a “grant program.” Other programs similar to the funding structure of R.A.L.L.Y. include Food Service, Community Schools and pupil transportation. None of those others have been charged the indirect cost rate.

Samia Savell, another MRCS parent on the committee, said that R.A.L.L.Y. cannot handle the wildly fluctuating indirect cost charges. It’s ranged from 3 to 9 percent. Since the program is mostly paid for by user fees its income doesn’t increase enough to cover the highly fluctuating rates.

Means presented an updated policy, which could be acted on by the board as early as its next regular meeting, with two changes. One would change the policy to include non-grant programs, but that would mean the indirect cost allocation would be spread across more programs. The other proposal is to include a set rate for those programs, unlike the grant programs. The rate is proposed at 2.5 percent. The current rate for grant programs is nearly 6.5 percent. The grant rate is followed by a state-mandated mechanism, Means said. There also are other parts of the policy that are there for legal purposes, so the district can’t treat all programs the same — it has to use different policies based upon funding source.

Scott Miller, a representative of the group, provided the board with those ideas, one of which is a policy change the board took its first-reading last night.

Miller said the group has four recommendations. One is to adopt the change in policy — which must be done either way or R.A.L.L.Y. can’t be charged a fee. Another is to have a parent advisory council for R.A.L.L.Y. since parents are the largest payees of the program. That’s actually in progress of being implemented with the assistance of the program manager. Third is to absolve the past (and existing) paper debt that the program is suffering from because of the inappropriate charges. Miller showed data that if the district absolved or gave credit for the indirect cost allocations back to 2007, the program would become and remain completely solvent and have a fund balance of at least $200,000. That portion of the suggestion will be presented at the board’s March meeting. The last suggestion is to change some management practices at the district level.

Savell appreciated the administration’s receptiveness and the board’s work, and said the group stopped short of asking the district to not charge them indirect cost, but instead opted for promoting a standardized, fair rate.

Savell said current data on after-school licensed child care in Juneau has availability for 135 students. There are currently five openings across those programs. R.A.L.L.Y. currently provides options for 200 students.

“It definitely is a needed service in this community,” she said. “It’s site-based. It’s safer, having a site based program than having kids bused to another facility. It does support the core Juneau School District roles in the education and growth of our kids.”

Mead spoke in favor of the things the group would like to see changed for the program.

“It is important not to miss, this esoteric financial issue almost caused the close of R.A.L.L.Y. at our school,” she said. “... We were the only program it was charged against, and it was charged against board policy. This program is 98 percent user fee funded. I pay thousands of dollars every year into the R.A.L.L.Y. program.”

Mead was appreciative of the district’s subsequent response to concerns about closing down some of R.A.L.L.Y.

In other board business, it unanimously adopted the school district calendar for next year that includes a week-long spring break the third week of March.

Assistant Superintendent Laury Scandling said they received a large amount of feedback on the two proposals. She said there were 160 responses, 130 were in favor of maintaining a spring break while the others were not.

“We have had an overwhelming response,” she said. “It was overwhelmingly in favor of retaining a spring break in the third week of March for reasons such as students have time to go visit colleges, the Gold Medal tournament have available facilities, as well as give teachers and students a chance to catch a breath.”

The calendar committee recommended the spring break option following the feedback.

• Contact reporter Sarah Day at 523-2279 or at sarah.day@juneauempire.com.

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