City officials examine preschool funding options

Evan Walbridge/Staff
Pablo Paredes and his son pose at Franklin Preschool. The Board of Education voted to continue funding certain preschools.

Following the Berkeley Unified School District’s proposal to eliminate extended day care programs to offset budget cuts to preschool funding, concerns from low-income families who rely on the programs to watch their children prompted further discussion between city and school officials.

At the school district’s June 8 Board of Education meeting, the board voted to keep three of four existing 9.5-hour preschool classrooms open for an additional year. Councilmembers Jesse Arreguin and Laurie Capitelli had planned to raise the issue again at the Berkeley City Council meeting on Tuesday, but in light of the school board’s decision, the council postponed discussions to plan for how they could raise the $60,000 needed to save the fourth classroom as well.

Pablo Paredes, chair of the School Governance Council and a parent of a child who attends one of the preschools, said the extended-hour preschools are extremely important to low-income families.

“They’re the only way that a lot of low-income, working families, or families that are full-time students, are able to access preschool in Berkeley,” he said. “Most families cannot afford quality family care.”

Paredes added that the purpose of the 9.5-hour classrooms coincided with the city’s 2020 Vision plan — which seeks to eliminate the racial achievement gap in schools by the year 2020 — and that cutting the programs would move away from this goal.

According to Paredes, between 12 and 14 of these programs originally existed, but due to budget cuts, the total number of programs has dwindled in recent years.

Because preschools receive most of their funding from the state, district Superintendent Bill Huyett said it is not unexpected that preschools are being hit hard by cuts. But keeping the preschools open is “absolutely critical” to students’ success, as the school district is one of few that continues to have 9.5-hour programs, he said.

According to Huyett, money for preschools will rely heavily on what other program funding the school district can tap into.

Paredes said one area district members are looking into for keeping the preschools afloat is the city’s child care mitigation funds, which are specifically designated for subsidizing low-income child care opportunities. Paredes said the 9.5-hour classroom fits those requirements perfectly.

Paredes added that the School Governance Council receives $70,000 from Berkeley Schools Excellence Project funds — a parcel tax from city taxpayers used for enrichment programs. After planning a budget for this year, Paredes said roughly $25,000 remained, which was offered to the school district to fund the 9.5-hour classrooms.

According to Arreguin, keeping the preschools open for next year is only a “one-year proposal.” Future discussions will be needed to figure out how to align the limited resources with the city’s goals, but the main goal is to keep what they already have open and “maintain the status quo.”

“Even cutting one classroom, that’s going to affect 24 families and their ability to work and their children to succeed,” he said.

Though discussion on the proposal has been delayed, Capitelli said he hopes the issue will be resolved soon for parents’ sake because parents need to start planning for their children’s school year.

“We’ve got 30 kids basically hung up, not knowing if they’re going to have child care, and all of them from lower-income families and working parents who don’t really have an alternative,” Capitelli said.

The caption accompanying a previous version of this article incorrectly referred to the child pictured in the photo as Pablo Paredes’ daughter. In fact, the child is Paredes’ son. The Daily Californian regrets the error.