Parents of the 140 students enrolled in the Ravenswood school district's Child Development Center (CDC) will be scrambling for care for about six weeks this summer as the preschool transitions to a new provider.
Ravenswood, no longer able to afford to operate the center in the face of an ongoing budget deficit, will relinquish its state-funded preschool spaces on June 30. The San Mateo County Office of Education is currently in talks with the California Department of Education to take over the slots and distribute them to a new provider at the same facility on O'Connor Street in East Palo Alto.
Representatives from the county Office of Education and 4Cs (the Child Care Coordinating Council) of San Mateo County, a nonprofit that helps families find child care, spoke with CDC families and staff at a Wednesday meeting organized by East Palo Alto Mayor Ruben Abrica. They estimated that families will have to find temporary care from June 30 to about mid-August.
The state Department of Education has told the county that it is "committed to keeping those spaces in San Mateo County, and preferably in the Ravenswood community," according to a county press release.
The county intends to find a new provider that will offer full-day, full-year preschool as the CDC currently does.
4Cs will help families find alternative care during the interim period, Executive Director David Fleishman said on Wednesday. As long there are open spaces elsewhere, parents will not have to reapply for eligibility and can transfer directly into other programs, county staff said. If their children are currently enrolled at the Child Development Center, they will also not have to reapply to the new provider there, staff said.
4Cs might also provide families with child care vouchers to cover the cost of non-state preschool programs during the transition period, according to the county.
Several parents asked how students who receive special-education services will be supported during the transition. County Superintendent Anne Campbell said that Ravenswood is still responsible for managing students' Individualized Education Plans (IEPs), but the county will work with families to also coordinate the plans with new providers.
Child Development Center staff, most of whom are losing their jobs under budget cuts recently approved by the Ravenswood school board, asked whether they will be recommended to be hired by the new provider. One mother also said she's concerned about losing teachers with whom her child has developed relationships.
While the county cannot direct an independent organization on its hiring process, staff noted that there's currently a shortage of early childhood educators in the region.
"When the new program vendors open, they're going to need to hire staff," said Jean-Marie Houston, administrator of early learning support services for the county Office of Education.
The county promised to communicate with families and staff regularly in the coming months as it negotiates a future for the preschool.
Acknowledging that parents want to know how their young children will be cared for, Campbell emphasized that the county is under a tight timeline to find a resolution for a complex situation. It's the first time her office is helping a district with the closure of a preschool facility, she said.
"This is not an easy thing to do," Campbell told the full room of more than 35 parents and community members. "We are absolutely focused on trying to make this work for everybody, but its going to be different. We're going to all need to work together."