Friday, July 18, 2008

Vote could close down preschool


After 15 years of renting a classroom from the Goleta Union School District, Gloria Castaneda, director of Wee Kare Preschool, is looking for a new place to house the Crayons, coloring books, child-size furniture and countless other materials needed for the 35 children she takes care of.
Wee Kare’s current home, on the closed down campus of El Rancho Elementary School at the far western edge of Goleta, which is also used by the Santa Barbara Montessori School, has been big enough for the two distinctly different schools for the past four years.

But on July 16, the Goleta Union School District Board of Trustees voted 4-1 to extend the Montessori School’s lease by five years, and terminate Wee Kare’s lease in September 2009.
The vote was greeted with a sense of shock by parents who rely on Wee Kare and left many questions as to how and why the district and Montessori School would propose a Wee Kare free lease.
Theories abound. But Castaneda, who has managed to provide relatively affordable childcare due to her long-standing relationship with the district and a generous rent arrangement, believes the administration at Montessori School simply doesn’t like her or the clientele she serves.
“Ever since they moved in here they have not wanted us here,” Castaneda told the Daily Sound yesterday from her preschool, which she’s been operating for 20 years. “Nobody’s nice to us. They just look at us like, ‘why are they there.’”
As a result of Wee Care’s relatively affordable cost, Castaneda said many of the children come from households that are less-than wealthy. For a child receiving full care (dropped off at 7:30 a.m. and picked up at 5:30 p.m. five days per week), Castaneda charges $600. By comparison, she said a parent could expect to pay about $1,200 per month at the Montessori School.
“We serve two different clienteles,” she said.
However, according to District Superintendent Dr. Kathleen Boomer, the reasons behind the 2009 eviction might be a lot more cut-and-dry than one camp simply not liking the other.
By renting the entire nine-acre campus to the Montessori School, Boomer said the district will get $340,000 per year compared to the school’s current annual rent of $280,000.
She said it’s her and the school board’s duty to ensure decisions are made in the best interest of the 3,500 students in the district, and an extra $60,000 per year goes a long way in a time of declining enrollment and widespread fiscal crisis for public education.
“The income that we generate from our leases helps us to offer better programs to our students than we would normally be able to offer,” she said. “It’s definitely and increase in income for the district over the next five years that we can count on.”
Boomer said it should have been no mystery to Castaneda that the school’s long advertised intentions for the campus were to rent it to one entity. And she said the Montessori School has gradually grown each year, with the eventual goal of taking over the entire campus.
Frances Fitzpatrick, co-founder of the Santa Barbara Montessori School, which currently has 140 students, confirmed it was the private, nonprofit school’s intentions to one day utilize the whole campus.
Fitzpatrick denied having anything against Castaneda or Wee Kare and said it was not her intention to leave them out of the lease.
“That was something the district decided on their own,” she said. “Our intention was not to displace Gloria. That was never our intention and we’re very empathetic to the situation she’s in and we are very willing to help in anyway we can.”
Longtime school board member Richard Mayer, who voted against evicting Wee Kare, said he did so in part because he didn’t have enough time to thoroughly investigate the situation.
He said big decisions like the lease agreement usually occur over more than one meeting.
Castaneda said she first heard the district was considering ending her lease on July 1, when she received a phone call from district Director of Fiscal Services Ralph Pachter. She said Pachter told her the board was taking up the issue on July 16 and she might want to attend.
Attempts to reach Pachter yesterday were not successful.
Mayer said the haste had to do with the pending expiration of Montessori School’s lease, which was quickly approaching.
Castaneda said she believes it had something to do with a dispute between the district and the Montessori School over the way square footage was calculated in their lease.
Mayer said he didn’t think so, but confirmed there was a dispute, in which some form of legal paper work was filed on behalf of the Montessori School. No lawsuit was ever filed, and Mayer said the misunderstanding has been cleared up. He said it had to do with the district including the eaves outside the buildings in the total square footage, which determines the price of rent.
Fitzpatrick admitted there was a dispute, but declined to go into any details. She did however refer to the new lease agreement as a “settlement” between the Montessori School and the district.
“I can’t really explain the details at this point without violating the rules of the confidentiality of the settlement,” she said.
When asked if she would consider allowing Wee Kare, which uses one classroom and a small play area near the front of the school, to remain if Montessori School doesn’t end up needing the entire campus, Fitzpatrick said she wouldn’t comment.
Castaneda made it clear she has no gripe with the district and has enjoyed working with them over the past two decades. In the next 13 months she hopes a space will become available at a different district-owned facility. In fact, she said the district has already been in contact with her about possible sites.
But that doesn’t ease Castaneda’s confusion as to why Wee Kare won’t be allowed to remain where it is. She said the Montessori School, which currently uses about half of the campus, could grow around her.
Why such an arrangement wasn’t worked out might not be known anytime soon, but it is one of the reasons board member Mayer said he voted against the lease agreement.
“I wish there was an option like that, but apparently there’s not because that’s something Montessori didn’t want to have, as far as I know,” Mayer said.
Castaneda, holding firm to her belief the administration at Montessori School doesn’t want her around, said she wishes those in charge could realize both schools, rich or poor, are working for the same end.
“Our goal is to serve the children and families,” she said. “We’re all here to serve children. I would have never made a proposal like that; to remove someone else from the campus.”

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