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After Hurricane Irma, Preschools Find Ways To Pay Employees, Give Family Discounts

Students at Excel Kids Academy in Miami Gardens.
Nadege Green
Students at Excel Kids Academy in Miami Gardens.

Latoya Williams was concerned about her first paycheck after Hurricane Irma.

She couldn’t go to work for seven days because the early childcare center where she teaches was closed because of the storm and its after-effects.

“Whatever I make is what I make,” said Williams. “I have no supplemental income. It really would have been hard and tight."

Like most hourly employees, Williams doesn’t get paid if she doesn’t show up to work— even if the reason is an act of nature. The economic impact of Irma could have a devastating affect on individuals who work hourly jobs.

And at South Florida preschools, families that still have to pay childcare costs even if they didn’t go to work also feel that hit. Some local childcare providers are creating payment plans or waiving fees altogether after Irma.

At Excel Kids Academy in Miami Gardens where Williams works, all teachers were paid for the time they missed because of the storm.

“It was actually more than a week of pay they would miss,” said Shawntravia Pointville, owner of Excel Kids.  “A half check or a whole check can mean homelessness almost, and I wanted to make sure that did not happen to the staff.”

According to  the U.S. Department of Education, preschool teachers in Florida earn a median annual salary of $24,240; that is below the poverty line for a family of four.

Latoya Williams gives her students instructions during computer time.
Credit Nadege Green
Nadege Green
Latoya Williams gives her students instructions during computer time.

Pointeville said the additional layer of financial stress after a storm is especially problematic when you need to focus on taking care of children.

“The caregivers have to be stable themselves in order to care for anyone else,” she said.  “I believe if the staff was financially stable they would recover from the emotional and material loss with less stress.”

Many of the family members who bring in their kids are also hourly employees who didn’t get paid for days because of the hurricane.

Most preschools charge a flat rate whether or not a child shows up for school.

After Irma, Pointville and some other preschool providers waived that rule. Parents did not have to pay for the time the school was closed. And for parents who were still struggling after they reopened, some offered discounted rates or payment plans.

“It’s difficult to tell families when they as well have been out of work that they have to pay,” said Rocio Leiva,  who runs the ABF Learning Center in Homestead.  

While some parents receive tuition assistance that covers the full cost of childcare through various state or local programs, others get partial assistance or pay out-of-pocket for the full cost.

Leiva’s preschool serves an army base across the street and families living in a nearby homeless shelter.  She said when people talk about how hurricanes impact schools, preschools are rarely part of that conversation.

“Everyone is focused on Dade County Public Schools. Are schools going to be open in that sense. But I think for the younger years and childcare centers and such, [it’s] probably not that important.”

Evelio Torres, CEO of the Early Learning Coalition of Miami-Dade and Monroe counties, said while preschool owners have created their own systems to help families and their employees after a storm, community-wide there has to be more help for hourly employees to recover after a hurricane.  

“The typical response of asking people to apply for FEMA is great. It doesn’t really address the immediate needs,” he said.  “And that’s what we have to get a lot better at doing: addressing the immediate needs.”

On a recent afternoon at Excel Kids Academy, Latoya Williams was watching over her students during computer time.

Williams said she was thankful that she was able to get her full paycheck to meet financial obligations after Irma.

“She didn’t have to pay us,” said Williams of her boss. “I appreciate that she did.”

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Nadege Greencovers social justice issues for WLRN.