By Laura Hayes, Contributing Writer
SOUTHBOROUGH — What type of before and after-school and extended day services are Southborough parents looking for?
That was the main question of a listening session conducted by Southborough Public Schools on June 28.
The listening session was scheduled after Southborough parents learned that the district planned to recommend a new provider to the School Committee.
Currently, Southborough students are served by the private nonprofit Southborough Extended Day Program (SEDP), which was founded by parents about 35 years ago.
Initial RFP process frustrates parents
SEDP was one of four providers who submitted proposals for a request for proposals (RFP), and the School Committee was scheduled to vote June 23, according to an email from Superintendent Gregory Martineau shared to social media. That meeting was canceled.
Martineau told the Community Advocate school districts are required to follow a procurement process when a contract has ended. SEDP’s will end in August.
When Southborough residents learned about the potential change, a petition was started to “save” SEDP.
“To switch to something else without parents actually saying, let’s switch or parents knowing why there’s a need to switch, without us telling you there’s a problem, is something that, in this particular process, bothered me significantly,” said resident Leonard Sutton during the listening session.
Martineau told the Community Advocate all of the bids were rejected.
“We did have criteria, but we think one misstep was not hearing directly from families who actually use these services,” said Martineau during the listening session.
SEDP pays rent for the space it uses, which is one of the triggers for the procurement process, Martineau told the Community Advocate.
This is not the first time SEDP has gone through the RFP process, which is done every three years. The difference this year is that SEDP had previously been either unopposed or unanimously selected.
An ongoing process, SEDP is currently working closely with the district.
New RFP process to move forward
The RFP process will now be starting over. The district has undertaken several efforts to get community feedback, including a survey and the listening session.
Kathryn Nordstrom works at home over 40 hours a week, but her schedule means that she can’t pick up her child from school at 2:30 p.m.
“Extended day to me, it’s friends and fun that I can’t provide to her,” said Nordstrom.
Some parents advocated for a program that had a sense of community and not an extension of school. One parent shared how SEDP organized a scavenger hunt for the kids during the pandemic.
We’re still in a pandemic, said parent John Reed. He asked if the law would allow SEDP’s contract to continue for a year.
“Why not just simply pause the process, continue the contract for a year, and restart this at the appropriate time heading into next year,” Reed said.
Martineau said the survey results and the feedback from the approximately 20 community members who spoke during the listening session will help the district develop its RFP.
He told the Community Advocate that the goal is to launch the procurement process in a few weeks and have a contract awarded for this school year.
A previous version of this story erroneously said SEDP received its space for free. The story has been corrected to reflect that SEDP pays rent. The Community Advocate regrets the error.