A decision to shutter three state preschool programs has miffed San Luis Coastal School District officials who say the cuts unfairly target the school district.
The County Office of Education, contracted to run the state preschool program throughout the county, will close three of 14 preschools to eliminate a $350,000 annual program deficit that has been back-filled by the county’s general fund for more than three years.
The three preschools slated for closure, in Morro Bay, Los Osos and San Luis Obispo, are all located in the San Luis Coastal School District. About 60 students age three to five years will be impacted.
Closing the schools was purely a financial decision, said Nancy Norton, county director of the state preschool program.
“This is exactly what we shouldn’t be doing,” said Norton. “That is why we hung on for the last three or four years. It was not a happy decision.”
State preschool programs will remain in Atascadero, Paso Robles, Grover Beach, Nipomo and San Miguel.
Parents pay a small fee for the state funded preschool that is intended for poor or low income who are above the poverty level.
County schools Superintendent Julian Crocker said those preschools were chosen because the achievement gap is greater at other school districts in the county.
However, in 2012 San Luis Coastal district was identified as missing the mark in meeting the achievement needs of low-income and minority students by the Oakland-based Education Trust-West, an education advocacy group.
San Luis Coastal was ranked 132 among the 142 schools, earning it a failing grade for its achievement gap between Latino and white students.
Superintendent Eric Prater said the cuts undermine the importance of early education.
The district recently added preschools at three of its low income elementary schools and has plans to open a fourth in the coming school year. The classes are open to students who qualify for free or reduced lunches.
The intention, said Prater, is to enroll preschoolers who would not have otherwise gone because of cost. The district has allocated $320,000 annually for the program.
However, the district’s decision to add its own preschools is what might have put it on the chopping block. "It is the superintendent’s initiative to open preschools when possible,” said Norton. “Other areas in the county don’t have that same initiative and we serve those areas as well.”
Prater said the district should not be punished for making preschool a priority.
“We slashed more from our general operating fund budget his year than any school district in this county. Employees lost their jobs,” Prater said. “It does not seem fair to us that now we should shoulder the burden of educating preschool students that qualify for state preschool as well as the students we are currently serving.”
Norton said the preschool programs might be saved if the district is willing to help pay to operate them. Prater said he will meet with the county next week to discuss options.
Reach AnnMarie Cornejo at 781-7939. Stay updated by following @a_cornejo on Twitter.