Preschool Axed in City Budget for FY 2011-12

Preschool, Tidal Waves swim program and D.A.R.E. are cut to save the city nearly $500,000 in upcoming fiscal budget.

Editor's note: More details on the FY 2011-12 city budget, approved 3-2 Tuesday night by the City Council, are available in a second article.

This article has been updated as of 1:15 p.m.

Parents made one last attempt to save several of the city's children's recreation programs at Tuesday night's budget hearing. In the end, the Milpitas preschool program was eliminated, and funding was cut for the Tidal Waves and D.A.R.E. programs, saving the city nearly $500,000. 

Other children's programs—including After the Bell and Rainbow Theatre—were spared, but will see a rise in fees.

Rainbow Theatre will keep its staff, a director and set designer, and its four stage productions a year. In return, parents and supporters are expected to form a group, raise money and apply for grants worth $40,000—with assistance from nonprofits Milpitas Parks and Recreation Foundation and Milpitas Alliance for the Arts.

City to Close Preschool Program

With Tuesday night's vote, the city will no longer run a preschool for 3-to 5-year-olds at the community center, beginning in the upcoming fiscal year. The closure will provide the city with a net savings of $123,000, which includes a 20-hour-per-week child care coordinator and a 30-hour-a-week preschool coordinator.

According to a public employee database, the total cost of employment for Toby Librande was $32,184 in the 2010 calendar year. And for Juliet Johnson, $37,004.

City Manager Tom Williams said that when the city formed the preschool program, there were only two licensed day care providers in Milpitas. Now there are 33. 

The city's preschool program is not licensed, said Bonnie Greiner, director of the parks and recreation department.

"We are basically a recreation preschool," she said. "There are a lot of facility changes we would have to make" to become licensed, she said, such as adding a bathroom inside the preschool.

There are 128 kids, about 94 percent Milpitas residents, enrolled this school year, said Greiner.

At slightly more than $6.50 per hour, the preschool, with 2½ to three hours per class, offers parents one of the cheapest options within the city.

One father at the meeting said, "With my wife going back to work because of the recession, we can't afford [to go somewhere else]." 

In her role as coordinator, Toby Librande hasn't just run the city's preschool. She's also been the city's liaison to child care providers, such as Shaista Soroya's mother, who runs Milpitas Childcare Learning Center, a large family day care licensed by the city. 

Without Librande as a "point of contact," Soroya said, the providers might "have to go through more hoops" when working with the city.

Librande also has coordinated workshops and guest speakers for the , which meets monthly.

Tidal Waves Restructured with Part-time Coaches

Last fall, the Citizens Budget Task Force calculated that the city's youth swim program cost $250,000, with fewer than 200 kids participating, and suggested the city eliminate the entire program.

At Tuesday night's budget hearing, Greiner recommended keeping the program, but cutting one full-time position. It would contibute to the city's net savings of $129,000. The City Council had approved the position in 2008 after parents petitioned for a full-time coach.

Fees for Tidal Waves have risen incrementally over the last few years. For Milpitas residents, beginner-level swimmers pay $55, juniors pay $65 and seniors pay $75 per month. However, Greiner said with the elimination of the full-time position and an increase in fees to $68, $78 and $88, the program could pay for itself.

Steve Balsbaugh, a Milpitas resident since 1979, said his grandson participates in Tidal Waves.

"The kids love the program," he told the council. "The parents love the kids. If it has to be a $13 increase, that's what we're willing to pay. Keep the program. That's the key thing we want to do." 

The total cost of employment for Jaime Chew, recreation services supervisor, was $86,699 for the 2010 calendar year. She spends two-thirds of her staff time coaching Tidal Waves.

Five part-time coaches will step up take on duties of head coach.

"We're going miss Jaime," said Balsbaugh. "But we still have the part-time coaches we had before. They're really good. It's still a viable program. That's the bottom line."

D.A.R.E. Replaced by Character Counts Program

Two full-time police officers staff the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program, which provides a 12-week drug prevention curriculum at local school campuses. The cost is about $400,000, including supplies, said Police Chief Dennis Graham.

The Milpitas Unified School District doesn't pay for the D.A.R.E. program; however, Milpitas elementary schools—including private schools Foothill Seventh-day Adventist, Merryhill and St. John's—benefit from it.

At the budget hearing, Graham presented an alternative to D.A.R.E., a six-week course called Character Counts. It would require only one full-time police officer, he said.

One of the full-time D.A.R.E. officers would be transferred to patrol services and fill a vacancy left by an officer who has retired, he said.

The council approved of the change to the Character Counts program. The FY 2011-12 budget estimates it will serve about 12 schools and 764 fifth-graders in the upcoming fiscal year.

Adelaide Chen May 11, 2011 at 09:33 PM
Colleen, most city councilmembers last night were in favor of eliminating the city's 4th of July event for the same reasons. I'd expect to see it happen in the next budget cycle. But since the event is less than two months, I think it might have been a little too late.
Norm May 11, 2011 at 11:54 PM
It can be certainly be argued that there many preschools in town and the city doesn't need to run a preschool-like program. Still, $123K doesn't sound like a lot of money, especially when the Tidal Waves swim team costs, gulp, a quarter of a mil and DARE more than that. Some hard choices have to be made, no question about that.
R. Thorn May 12, 2011 at 12:22 AM
I believe the parents of the preschoolers should have been given the option of a tuition increase. If we want our children to remain at Milpitas Preschool, then we would have agreed to an increase to keep the program. We were not given that option. As it stands now, if we send our children to a different preschool here in Milpitas, it will cost us more to do so...I would have preferred to pay more money to keep my child where he was...with teachers he trusts and loves...with the friends he has made ... in a program that I know works! Now, 128 families have to find a new preschool for their children . :(
Adelaide Chen May 26, 2011 at 09:59 PM
Parents at the city of Milpitas preschool: here's an affordable alternative. Milpitas Unified Child Development Centers. http://patch.com/A-hLyl
R. Thorn May 26, 2011 at 11:47 PM
Thanks for the update, but don't count us out yet! We will be at the June 7th city council mtg, with our signed petitions, trying to convince the council not to close our school! If anyone would like to sign the petition, pls contact me. Thank you!


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