The fate of the Ravenswood City School District's state-funded preschool program hangs in the balance as the district, facing an ongoing budget shortfall, negotiates with the county and state to assume operations of the Child Development Center (CDC) in East Palo Alto.
The district plans to lay off the majority of the staff there — the school board approved last week cutting 28 out of 31 positions as part of more than $5 million in reductions for next year — but school officials have said they do not plan to close the center.
Ravenswood is currently in talks with the San Mateo County Office of Education and the California Department of Education to explore different options for the center, which is close to full enrollment with 165 students out of 185 available spaces, according to the district.
The county could potentially take over the center's state-funded preschool slots, county Superintendent of Schools Anne Campbell said in an interview, and Ravenswood families would still have access to them, just under a different provider.
Other nearby preschool programs, such as the Creative Montessori Learning Center in East Palo Alto and the federally funded Head Start program (which has local locations in East Palo Alto, Menlo Park and Redwood City), could also expand to the facility to address a "huge shortage" of child care facilities in the county, Campbell said.
But, she noted, other preschool programs also operate on very slim budgets.
The county Office of Education could also reassign the preschool slots, and funding, to facilities throughout the rest of San Mateo County, but the agency is aiming to keep them in East Palo Alto and east Menlo Park, Campbell said.
The district did not make Chief Budget Official Steve Eichman nor Superintendent Gloria Hernandez-Goff available to answer questions about the CDC by the Weekly's press deadline.
At the Feb. 8 board meeting, Hernandez-Goff told a full room of staff, parents and community members, many wearing name tags to indicate their affiliation with the CDC, that the district has no money to continue operating the center.
The Child Development Center serves students 3 to 5 years old. Admission is based on family size and income, according to the district website. In order to qualify for admission, parents must either be working, in school at an accredited institution or seeking employment.
District staff have described the center as under-enrolled but costly and subsidized by the general fund. The district is now facing a multiyear budget shortfall due to years of declining enrollment and a corresponding loss in state revenue, compounded by several years of deficit spending.
At last week's board meeting, some parents also suggested that Ravenswood collaborate with the City of East Palo Alto to operate the Child Development Center. They described the CDC as an invaluable program that had made a significant difference in the academic and social-emotional lives of their young children.
In a Thursday letter to East Palo Alto Mayor Ruben Abrica and the City Council, board President Ana Pulido and Vice President Sharifa Wilson asked that the city financially support the Child Development Center. The trustees cited the city's commitment to the My Brother's Keeper initiative, a national effort to support young men of color, and the preschool program's ability to impact male students at a young age.
"As our neighbors continue being pushed out of our community via gentrification, it is becoming more and more evident that, in order to maintain the soul of our community, we are all going to have to work together to support local families," the trustees wrote.
Campbell said the local, county and state agencies are under a tight deadline to find a resolution for the Child Development Center: Ravenswood will forego responsibility for the center when the fiscal year ends on June 30, but the facility is open year-round. 4C's of San Mateo County, which provides referrals and resources related to child care and preschool services, could potentially help place children elsewhere this summer, Campbell said.
Campbell said her office has asked the state Department of Education to send a representative to do a site walk of the Child Development Center to evaluate potential options. The county then aims to bring together any agencies or preschool programs who might be interested in expanding to the CDC.
The school board will hold a retreat this Saturday, Feb. 17, in part to discuss the budget and seek public input on cuts. The meeting will be held at 2120 Euclid Ave., East Palo Alto. The board's open session is scheduled to start at 9:30 a.m. View the agenda here.