Every morning Fernanda Brant drops her son off at the YMCA-run preschool in Mountain View, where he spends the day playing outside and learning, all for free, while his mom works as a nanny.
Until this month, Brant had planned to send her second son to the Mountain View Child Development Center when he reached preschool age. But the preschool on San Pierre Way is now losing its home, and Brant and her sons are among 110 low-income Mountain View families who will not have affordable child care starting this summer.
The YMCA of the East Bay runs the 20-year-old preschool, and has been leasing the Stevenson campus month-to-month from the Mountain View Whisman School District at a cost of just over $120,000 a year. But as enrollment at Mountain View Whisman has climbed faster than expected, the district now needs the facility for its own students, and plans to move its PACT program there in August following a renovation of the campus. Child Development Center is scheduled to be out by June 30.
Brant said the decision is "unfair" for the preschool families, many of whom work in the fast food industry, she said, and rely on Child Development Center's affordable services. When it goes, they will be without a preschool, and some of the parents will have to stop working in order to care for their children.
"We have the state funding," Brant said. "We just need a place."
The city offers some spaces for low-income families in its new child care center, but there are few other subsidized options in Mountain View.
The families attended a City Council meeting late last month to request more child care space for their children, and planned to protest at this week's Mountain View Whisman School District board meeting.
"I am going to fight until the end," said Brant, who is helping to organize the other families. "It's better to lose a few days of work now than lose my job forever."
With the elementary school district facing increasing enrollment, chief financial officer Craig Goldman said he warned the YMCA executives and preschool director last August that the district was "considering utilization of the space," he said.
Castro Elementary School has been hit particularly hard by high enrollment because it hosts neighborhood students and two choice programs, including PACT. In January, board members voted to spend $2 million to renovate the Stevenson campus for PACT -- a parent participation program which stands for "Parent, Child, Teacher" -- in hopes of alleviating overcrowding at Castro.
The district will begin construction in May on the north side of the preschool campus, "but won't touch the main building where the [preschool children are until July 1," Goldman said.
Don Lau, vice president of YMCA of the East Bay, said he knew that the district was considering taking over the building, but his staff found out about the final decision recently when searching the district's Web site. The district has not sent an official letter, he said.
The YMCA has an open facility in Hayward, but it would be hard for Mountain View families to get there. Executives at YMCA of the East Bay, which runs similar preschool programs throughout the state, have been talking with district staff and City Council members to find space for the families. Council member Ronit Bryant said she asked staffers to "see if there is anything the city can do."
"It does seem like it would be a loss to the city," Bryant said after the preschool families spoke at a council meeting.
The YMCA has recommended families go on the Centralized Eligibility List, which identifies families that qualify for free or low-cost child care. Preschools can choose to participate in the program, and pick families off the lists when they have openings.
"If families wait too long, [they might be without care," Lau said.
Taking a stand
Meanwhile, families at the Mountain View preschool have taken matters into their own hands. Parents know the decision has already been made, but say they want help from the district to find a new space. They plan to tell board members so at the district's regular meeting on Thursday, March 5.
On a recent Friday afternoon at the preschool, children napped as a group of employees, parents and former students -- now fully grown -- met to discuss the school's options. Brothers Leonardo and Fernando Munoz, 24 and 21, returned to their former preschool, both kissing director Lucia Medina on the cheek.
The brothers said they come occasionally to pick up their nieces or nephews and to visit Medina, who has been at the center since it opened 20 years ago.
"I thought when I had kids, I would bring them here also," said Fernando, who now attends San Francisco State University.
Teachers at the preschool use the Montessori principles of education focused on self-directed learning. This teaching style and the state subsidized education are both unique in Mountain View, parents and community members say.
The group meets in an office which, they say, exemplifies the unrenovated facility with its cracked tiles and chipped wood panels. Group members say they can't imagine what the new campus will look like after $2 million in renovations.
"They are going to spend so much money," Brant said. "They never did it for us. It is not fair."
"It feels like they are kicking out the lower-class people," Fernando said.