So, here’s what happened. For whatever reason, the school administration has been hell bent on cutting the a.m. transportation to the preschool (our head start program that services the most disadvantaged children in our community). When they tried it last year, as I discussed here, they claimed that it was to increase instructional time. The claimed financial savings was said to be around $39K. In the end, they opted to keep the a.m. transportation without explanation.
This year, the subject arose again. First, in one of the budget work sessions, the preschool principal, Marian Phillips, proposed the cut. She stated that 70 of the 210 preschoolers rode the bus in the morning and that the cost savings would be $55-$59K (this number was later reduced to $51K, but no explanation of the drastic increase in savings over last year was ever discussed). Her justification essentially was that the buses were late, which cut into instructional time, and that she could better use those funds in other ways. In her mind, parents would be more likely to get their 3 and 4 year olds to school on time, earlier than the buses even.
When the board questioned how many of those children, 1/3 of the entire enrollment, would be left without the ability to get to school, she wasn’t entirely forthcoming. She insisted that based on informal feedback from some parental advisory board and on the fact that only a handful of kids don’t make it during the first week of school each year (when the buses do not run), the impact would be minimal. She suggested that these kids, some of the most indigent of our city who often get their ONLY meal of the day in this program (I know because I used to work in it as did my stepmother) would find ways, that they’d band together and carpool. Only once, in the midst of discussion, did she admit that a formal survey was never conducted. I’d bet money that most of those parents knew nothing about her plan.
Fast forward to the last work session before the final budget vote. Board member Angi Agle motioned to discuss it. That motion was not seconded and, thus, died. It appeared that only one board member saw the merits of Ms. Phillips’ case and the matter was dead. Then, in the final budget meeting (in which no public comment is allowed), out of the blue, vice chair Bob Eby, offered to second Ms. Agle’s previous motion if she chose to bring it back to the table. She did so and the discussion ensued, locking out any challenge by the public. Mr. Eby stated that he had been contacted by a parent whose child rode the bus. That one parent stated that they would support the cut. Wow! How often do you hear of citizens taking the time to contact their elected representatives to tell them to CUT the services they use?!?! Ms. Richter and Mr. DiGregorio both questioned the merits and, in the end, voted against the measure. Chair Keys Fillauer, who never made a single comment or question on the matter, was obviously persuaded as his vote changed as Mr. Eby’s had. The cut was made and there was nothing anyone could do about it as it was wrapped into the final approval of the budget.
At one time, I subbed at the preschool. I clearly recall stories of a.m. riders who struggled just to get out the door and onto the bus. I know of parents now whose work schedule will make it very difficult, if not impossible, for them to get their children to the program they so desperately need. I am certain that many of these kids’ circumstances will present similar obstacles now that they have to make their own way. I fail to comprehend how Dr. Bailey, Ms. Phillips and the board would even entertain this idea when it is pretty clear that it would limit, possibly eliminate, the participation of the very children for whom the preschool/head start program is intended.
I was going to let it all go. Really, I was. Games were obviously played and this round was lost. But, tonight, Dr. Bailey and Mr. Fillauer presented their budget to city council and went on and on about how important the preschool is to our kids. When they started talking about how statistics show that preschool can mean the difference between a life of success and a life of crime, I couldn’t take it anymore. I decided to address council. I let them know how disingenuous the schools sounded considering how they screwed 70 kids out of participating in this wonderful program. I informed them that no formal survey was ever conducted and that we may never know how many kids would be affected since there is always a waiting list for this program.
Yes, I said screwed to council, over an open mic, on local tv. Sue me.