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Pleasantville parents with elementary school-age children are finding themselves in a bind since the Panther Club after-school childcare program has been unable to enroll an overflow number of registrants.
For years parents have relied on the club, an affordable program run by the village’s Parks & Recreation Department and the Pleasantville School District at Bedford Road School.
This year, with more parents returning to a post-pandemic work schedule, the club had record-breaking registration applications. But when many parents tried to sign up their children, the online registration site shut down due to technical difficulties.
Listening to parents’ frustration at last week’s Pleasantville Village Board work session was Pleasantville Superintendent of Parks and Recreation Mike Newman and Board of Education President Jill Grossman. Three parents attended the meeting in person and a handful of parents commented via Zoom.
“My wife and I both work and we’ve had to cut out of work early,” said Cameron Cassidy, who was unable to get his son, a third-grader, into the Panther Club. “We can’t find private care and even for $35 an hour nobody wants the work.”
Village Trustee David Vinjamuri said his son has been waitlisted for the Panther Club for about a week.
Carrie Roberts, who works in the city two to three days a week, has a fourth- and fifth-grader who have attended the Panther Club since they were in kindergarten. Currently, both children are waitlisted.
“We are relying on neighbors to help us look after my children when I am at work,” Roberts said.
Newman said online registration started off slowly at the end of July, but picked up by mid-August when the club was nearing full enrollment.
“By late August we discovered an issue with the system and we closed it hoping for a quick fix,” Newman said. “An internal test showed it worked right before the re-launch, but then it failed again.”
With the system malfunctioning, Newman said the department decided to create a temporary wait list to get names into the system and later add them to a formal wait list.
“Just to be clear, the Wednesday slot was already filled and the other days were almost full before the system went down,” Newman said.
Currently, 130 children a day are enrolled Mondays through Thursdays and 124 attend the club on Friday. About 50 children are on the wait list and many of those requested after-school care Monday through Friday. The program was originally set up to handle 100 children a day, but was increased to 130 last year.
Finding more space and hiring more staff to accommodate additional children poses problems. Any changes would have to be approved by the state Department of Education.
“Trying to find additional staff might be a heavy lift,” said Newman. “I don’t have a stack of applications for hiring, and if we did hire more staff, it would require background checks, the approval of the state and the village. That’s not always a quick turnaround.”
Accessing more space at Bedford Road School could also be problematic, especially when other groups have reserved space for meetings or programs in classrooms, the auditorium or cafeteria. Currently the Panther Club uses five classrooms, each with 20 children. If needed, the cafeteria can hold 60 children and 20 more can be in the library.
The Village Board agreed that a long-term solution will require ongoing conversation between parents, the village and the district.
Grossman said the district will work with the club.
“Once you know how many more students you want space for, you can fill out a request form and the team at the school would figure out what they can handle and what rooms would be appropriate,” Grossman said.
In the near term, Vinjamuri asked if there were any parents who would volunteer and run one Panther Club group a week. He encouraged parents to help find ways for waitlisted children to attend club programs sooner rather than later.
“If you’re willing to participate to be part of the solution, please let any one of us know,” he said. “We will put together a group and come back with suggestions.”
Abby is a local journalist who has reported on breaking news for more than 20 years. She currently covers community issues in The Examiner as a full-time reporter and has written for the paper since its inception in 2007. Read more from Abby’s editor-author bio here. Read Abbys’s archived work here: https://www.theexaminernews.com/author/ab-lub2019/