City slashes funds for pre-school programs, parents fume

The funding for teachers at preschools for three- and four-year-olds in nine Boston Center for Youth and Families community centers has been cut for next year, potentially leaving hundreds of parents and toddlers in the lurch.

"They say they're not going to close it, but they're laying off all the teachers," said Adrienne Kaszanek, a mother of a three with a three-year-old son in the Murphy Community Center's preschool. "If they shut down this program, I have nowhere to send him next year, unless I pay $4,400 to send him to Pope John Paul Academy. I'm—along with a lot of other parents—up the creek."

Boston Public Schools also offers preschool for four-year-olds, but Kaszanek said her tot didn't win the lottery to enroll in limited spaces near her home this year, and she refuses to put her young son on a bus to another part of town.

The Murphy also holds a lottery to select students for the preschool, and its three teachers are extremely popular with local parents.

"All of those girls down there are so loving and caring with the students," said Michelle Griffin, a parent of three young girls, one who graduated from the program and two she hopes will follow. "My daughter just bounded out of the car to get there. I don't know what they're going to do with the program, but right now it's just perfect."

Kaszanek estimates there are 18 four-year-olds and 54 three-year-olds in the Murphy's preschool, which holds two-hour classes for the tots two or three times each week. The cost runs $300 per year for three-year-olds or $450 per year for four-year-olds. Costs vary dramatically between community centers. At the Perkins, the cost for preschool is $105 per week for four hours a day.

BCYF spokeswoman Sandy Holden said there are 117 tots affected at three Dorchester community centers, including the Murphy, Perkins and Marshall community centers, and no cuts in Mattapan. Six other centers in the city will also be affected. They include the Ohrenberger in West Roxbury, the Roslindale, the Kent in Charlestown, the Jackson-Mann in Allston and Curtis Hall and the Hennigan in Jamaica Plain.

Director of BCYF Daphne Griffin emphasized that BCYF will be working to help the community center councilsd secure funding to continue all eight of the programs, but that funding has yet to be found. The savings for the city made by laying off the preschool teachers, she said, would be "significant." In the future it will be the responsibility of independent 501c3 community center councils, such as the Richard J. Murphy Community School Council, to raise funds and write grants for the preschools.

"We have identified one possible source of funding with the Department of Early Education and Care and have encouraged your site administrator to apply," Griffin wrote to Murphy parents. "BCYF will continue to support your local community center's childcare program in a variety of ways, including operational costs such as community center space, phone systems, and maintenance as well as technical support with compliance and licensing issues, programming and grant writing."

"The services won't be interrupted," insisted Griffin in a phone interview Monday. "But they may have to change their fee structure."
Yet parents remain skeptical. At the Murphy in particular, parents have railed against the community school council, which they have said was inactive for years. Nineteen new board members, many chomping at the bit to add new programming and reinvigorate the center, were appointed to the council in January.

Acting council chair Joan Pierce said she was accepting of the new members however, and rejected claims that the council had been inactive. Pierce did not immediately return a phone call for this article.

Griffin said BCYF would help steer that board and others overseeing the eight centers affected through the transition.

"We're doing the hands-on work with them because some of them don't have the capacity," she said. "We want to make sure that we maintain a level of services."

Griffin will be meeting with the various councils over the coming months. The meeting at the Murphy will be 5:30 p.m. on April 7.

Meanwhile, the city of Boston's budget process is not yet complete. Though Griffin said the preschool cuts are definitely happening, more cuts may be on the way as negotiations with the city's employee unions and other factors play out. One possible cut, she said, was the elimination of eight assistant coordinator positions at various community centers.