Parents involved in the 56-year-old cooperative preschool made another plea to the board of trustees of the Mountain View-Los Altos Union High School District on Monday, asking them to reconsider their decision to terminate the lease.
"It's beyond comprehension to me that there is no space to be made," Dara Tynefield, board president emeritus for the preschool, told the trustees and district administration at the Nov. 8 meeting. She called the board's action "a bad decision for the community at large."
District trustees and administration offered their condolences and said they would be happy to help find a new location for the preschool before unanimously voting to terminate the lease by June 15, 2011.
"I think we've done the best we can in a bad situation," said board member Julia Rosenberg.
Tynefield said that the news is unfortunate, since the preschool has been in the community so long and provides needed services at affordable rates. "It's not surprising," she said. "It's still disheartening."
The preschool provides preschool services to about 60 families, but "this isn't just about the kids," Tynefield said.
Because it is a cooperative, it charges lower tuition rates than other local preschools. It is also a part of Los Altos High and the district adult schools' child development curriculum — parents and high school students who work at the cooperative earn credits in child development.
If the preschool is forced to move outside of the district, this component would be lost, Tynefield said.
Currently, the preschool pays no rent for the land it uses on the Los Altos High School grounds. Finding a new location, within district boundaries, that will provide space for free or at below-market rates is posing a significant challenge for the Los Altos Parent Preschool. Tynefield told the district officials that the preschool has been in talks with more than 60 churches, city officials from Mountain View and Los Altos, Foothill College, El Camino Hospital, other preschools and multiple non-profit organizations.
Securing a free or below-market lease rate is just as critical as the parent-participation model to keeping tuition low, Tynefield said. If the Los Altos Parent Preschool were to pay market rates for their operation, it would "kill the co-op nature" of the program. She said that people would not be willing to pay normal preschool rates and still take on the duties required of parents at the preschool — about one full day each week, on average.
Los Altos Parent Preschool had to overcome a hurdle last year after cuts were made at the state level to adult education, forcing the cooperative to raise its tuition. If it has to raise tuition again, Tynefield said, retaining current attendance would be difficult and recruiting new families would be "impossible."
The preschool offers multiple programs for different age groups with tuition ranging from $1,900 to $3,600 annually.
"Simply, we cannot afford commercial rents and offer the quality program we do, at an accessible tuition," she said.
For comparison, a month's tuition for Wonder World Preschool in Mountain View is $950 for weeklong, half-day programs for two- and three-year-olds; tuition for Action Day Primary Plus preschool in Mountain View can run as much as $1,524 per month for the pre-kindergarten age bracket.
The adult-education component makes the preschool even more indispensable, Tynefield said. The training Los Altos Parent Preschool provides to high school students and local parents ends up benefiting the community. If the cooperative goes away the community will lose "affordable quality preschool and parent education, and a foundation of volunteering in education, not to mention a multi-generational history," Tynefield said.
While the hard deadline for the cooperative to move isn't until next summer, Tynfield said that if the preschool doesn't have something solid lined up by January it will be hard to convince families to sign up during the registration, which begins in February for most area preschools.
High school growth
"We've known for a couple of years that we were going to need that space," Barry Groves, district superintendent, said, noting that teachers are already sharing classes. Over the next 10 years, Groves and the board anticipate the district will grow by 25 percent. "We need to use that site."
That translates to about 450 additional high school students at Los Altos by 2020, according to Joe White, superintendent of business services for the district. He said that the district would like to use the 15,000 square feet now occupied by the preschool's parking area, playground and portable, to accommodate that growth.
Groves said the district plans to use the preschool's space for vocational training courses for Los Altos High School.
Both Groves and Rosenberg have worked with the preschool to try to find a new site within the district's borders. Groves said that the district does have an interest in maintaining the educational opportunities the preschool provides the adult school and the high school.
Tynefield said she wishes the district would do more.
"We're running out of time," she said.