More than a dozen parents are opposed to the city’s state-operated district’s move to close the St. Mary’s Early Learning Center on Sherman Avenue as the school system struggles with its finances.
“I don’t want my kid with older kids,” said Yessenia Benitiz, mother of three-year old Matthew Ramos, on Thursday evening. She said her son is enrolled into the center’s pre-k 3. Ramos will begin pre-k 4 next year, said his mother.
Benitiz may have to drop off her son to School 27, which is in a different neighborhood, beginning next year. School 27 on Richmond Avenue is more than a mile away from the St. Mary’s School. She said the preschoolers may not receive the accommodation they have at the Sherman Avenue site.
Benitiz said the elementary school where the district is attempting to move the children may not have the smaller toilets needed by 3 and 4 year olds.
Another parent Leticia Chicas, who does not drive, said it will be difficult for her to drop off her preschooler to a different location. She raved about the school and its proximity to her home in the Totowa section.
“I need this school around here. I hope they keep this school open,” said Rukshana Ali, who has two kids at the center. She said many of the women, who send their children to the center, do not drive. “This is not fair,” she said.
The district leases the building, which is owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, according to city records, for $502,524 a year. State-appointed district superintendent Donnie Evans listed the lease agreement among a list of cuts he proposed to close a $45 million shortfall in the 2016-17 budget.
The building’s lease expires on June 30th, 2016, according to the district.
“As the district prepared its 2016-17 budget and looked for cost savings measures, it was decided that we would not renew this lease because there are facility issues,” said district spokeswoman Terry Corallo on Monday morning. “We are confident that these pre-k children will continue to receive a quality education in buildings that can better meet 21st Century learning standards.”
School officials had discussed moving children from the center to School 27 and School 5. Corallo said the district will not be moving preschoolers to School 5, but said there will be other options available to the impacted parents.
School board member Errol Kerr said the building at 95 Sherman Avenue has had issues with heating and cooling. In fact, school board members have repeatedly described the building as “substandard.”
180 preschoolers are enrolled at the St. Mary’s Early Learning Center, according to the district. About 75 pre-k 3 children moving up to pre-k 4 will be impacted by the building closure and move.
After finishing pre-k 4, the children have to move to a different building for kindergarten, according to the district.
School board member Jonathan Hodges blamed the state’s underfunding of the city’s public schools for the building closure.
“I’m against all of these measures,” said Hodges, who often rails against the state for not providing “adequate” funding to the city’s schools. “I’m extremely sympathetic to their concerns,” he said referring to the parents.
“I don’t know why they are closing this school,” said Amina Khatun, whose daughter is enrolled at the center, on Thursday evening.
“It’s a great school,” said Nasim Uddin, whose two children attend the center. The parents said the school is well run by the teachers and the principal.
“School 27 is too far for me. My wife doesn’t drive,” said Uddin. He said his wife usually drops off his two preschoolers at the center.