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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Let's work creatively to fill childcare gaps

More than a third of public schools will be making the shift to a year-round schedule, with the first, abbreviated summer vacation lasting only seven weeks, June 8 to July 26. All state-run campuses will be following the same calendar for the first time in years.

It's true that in the long run, this will mean less frustration when it's time to make work and school schedules line up neatly, especially in families with children at different campuses.

But the adjustment is going to be a little rocky in the short term, and it's important for schools, parents and the businesses where they work to plan ahead so scheduling train wrecks can be avoided.

The kids may sound the loudest alarm at first the sacrifice of their "endless summer" won't sit well with many of them. The real growing pains during the transitional first year, however, may be felt by parents needing childcare, and by the care providers scrambling to fill the need.

By now, most parents have made their arrangements for summer programs that are ready to roll, but the toughest challenge may arise for the one-week intercession break in October. Providers who usually count on college students to staff their programs won't find as many available to work; parents who used to juggle days off to care for children during briefer holidays now will find themselves vying for the same week as other working moms and dads.

Looking beyond fall to the extended winter and spring breaks, many schools are planning to use that time for needed repairs to cafeterias, gyms and other campus facilities often the same spaces used by childcare programs. The competition for space is sure to be heated.

And parents whose kids attend private schools on the traditional nine-month calendar: Be warned. Providers plan to curtail some of their offerings during the break after summer school to serve the larger public school population.

The ones hardest hit will be families who can't afford tuition-based programs. Wisely, city parks planners are exploring ways to offer lower-cost programs, but may not have enough ready to fill the gaps immediately.

Employees and employers must think creatively about strategies, such as flex-time schedules and in-house childcare cooperatives. The care of our keiki is a parental responsibility, but the community's help is now needed.