NEWARK -- A longtime city-run preschool child care program will close at the end of the month, falling victim to budget cuts and decreasing enrollment, but some parents are not willing to let it go without a fight.
The city sent a letter on May 31 informing parents that the state-licensed program held at the Newark Community Center will end June 28.
David Zehnder, Newark's recreation and community services director, said the 24-year-old program must close because it is "operating at a significant operational deficit," and the city no longer can afford to subsidize it. Newark this year paid about 25 percent of the program's annual $400,000 operating budget, Zehnder said.
The preschool program has been in trouble since 2010, when the city laid off an employee, reducing the staff to four full-time teachers, a part-time instructor and a full-time supervisor, Zehnder said.
For weekly fees ranging from $126 to $176, the program has provided child care, preschool instruction, education-based field trips and exercise on an adjacent playground.
Enrollment, which topped out at 48 students in peak years, had started to decrease in 2011 and never rose above 38 students this spring, Zehnder said. City officials believe that a rise in commercial day care centers has cut into the enrollment and revenue that Newark's program once enjoyed.
"If it was full like it used to be and we were confident that it would remain full, then I probably wouldn't be having this conversation with you," Zehnder said. "Back when we started in 1989, we were one of the few, and that was our niche. Now, the demand is somewhat saturated."
Some parents said they felt blindsided by the letter, arguing that the program could survive if the city improved its marketing of it.
"We are very frustrated that we were given less than a month's notice of the closure," said Kristopher Teague, a Newark resident. Teague said his 3-year-old daughter has benefitted from the program's preschool curriculum, showing a rapid improvement in her reading skills. He said he and his wife moved to Newark a few years ago because it offered services like the preschool.
"We are very disheartened by the city's decision on this matter," Teague said. "It's a step in the wrong direction and it seems Newark is getting away from its core values."
Zehnder said that the child care center was marketed well, citing a large banner attached to the community center, as well as an article about it that appears in the city's recreation guide.
Shauna Butler, a Newark woman whose 5-year-old son attended the program, said she and other parents are trying to find an alternative solution to closing the school.
"There are so many things that we could have done if, as parents and as a community, we would have known the program was in trouble," Butler said. "We love it here. We won't give up on Newark, and they shouldn't either."
Contact Chris De Benedetti at 510-353-7011. Follow him at Twitter.com/cdebenedetti.