Independence Schools starting child-care reimbursement for staff

By Mike Genet
The Examiner

The Independence School District will offer employees a chance to enroll their children in district-sponsored childcare programs at significant savings, a move district leaders say can ultimately strengthen communities. 

Starting with the next school year, employees who work at least 25 hours per week can enroll their children in Kid’s Safari (before- and after-school care) and early education (up to age 5) at up to a 75 percent reimbursement. The program starts with the next benefits plan year on Oct. 1, allowing employees to save potentially hundreds of dollars per year. 

The idea, Superintendent Dale Herl said, is that reimbursement can help attract and retain employees, as they could potentially use the child-care savings to, among other things, afford buying a home. Home ownership, in turn, tends to build more stable communities. Employees must also live in the school district boundaries (portions of eastern Independence are in the Fort Osage and Blue Springs school districts, for example) to enjoy the benefit. 

District leaders have discussed such a child-care program for about two years, Herl said, and he said they haven’t seen it elsewhere in the Kansas City area. 

“To my knowledge, we’re the only ones doing this,” he said. “We were hoping to roll it out last year, but then the pandemic happened, and we turned our focus elsewhere.” 

Herl said he’s heard some employees are excited about the new option. 

“It’s like getting a substantial raise,” the superintendent said. “For some, now they can buy a home for the first time, or move into the district.” 

“The biggest issue right now is the housing market is so hot.” 

How much the discount program will cost the district is unknown, Herl said, since it’s all new. The district budgeted for $425,000 less revenue from child-care programs for 2021-22. 

“It could be more; it could be significantly less,” Herl said. “We’re having to guess and estimate how many” will enroll. 

No matter, the district sees the program as a win.  

“It’s a wonderful thing for our community,” Herl said. “A significant part of our budget comes from property taxes, so we see this as investment in ourselves as well as the community.”