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For over 50 years, Normal Heights Children’s Center has provided daycare and preschool for children in the neighborhood. The center is a nonprofit operated by the Normal Heights Methodist Church and serves kids aged two to four. But on Monday, church leadership announced it would be shutting down at the end of June.
In a letter sent to parents, Reverend Brent Ross wrote that early last year the church had commissioned a study of its buildings and found that the estimated cost of upkeep was in the millions, which far exceeded the $300,000 the church had in savings.
But Ross also wrote that larger forces pressing down on the church have made it harder to stay afloat, specifically the pressure faced by private childcare providers given the statewide expansion of universal transitional kindergarten – a new grade created for four-year-olds and offered for free by public schools.
“Attendance is down at many schools and it seems likely the crunch will continue as more and more parents choose to send their 4 year old children to public school TK programs,” Ross wrote. “The majority of our budget is made on the older children classrooms which only increases the impact of their migration to public TK classrooms.”
The refrain is a familiar one. Back in November, Honey Bear, a preschool that was a longtime fixture in the Point Loma area shut its doors citing similar concerns. And during October‘s Politifest, panelists warned of this possibility. After all, universal transitional kindergarten sweeps up the exact age group that – because of staffing requirements that mean fewer teachers are needed for older kids – are where childcare providers draw most of their profit.
San Diego Unified officials on the other hand see that influx of students as a potential way to blunt long term trends of enrollment decline. Board member Richard Barrera even posited that public schools should eventually replace private childcare altogether, which he described as less of a system and more of a broken patchwork. Doing so, he said, could bring down the rising rates parents are charged while also raising the wages of chronically underpaid private childcare workers.
But for the around 30 families now forced to find another childcare option with just a couple of months’ notice, and in a city with shrinking, and increasingly pricey options these rationalizations aren’t very useful.
Hailey Persinger’s 5-year-old attended the center for around two years. She loved it so much that her toddler was set to start in the fall. She said it’s the kind of preschool that doesn’t exist anymore.
Many preschools want to set kids up to succeed in STEM or be “Harvard-ready by the time they’re five,” Persinger said with a laugh. The Normal Heights Childcare Center, however, is more play based.
“They teach kids everything they need to know to go to kindergarten, but it is the kind of place where they focus more on emotional state and being a good person and being good citizens,” she said. It was also comparatively inexpensive.
Persinger, who serves on the center’s board, said news of the impending closure came as a shock. She only learned of the financial troubles days before the church announced the closure. “The place has been there for 50 years so for it to be gone in a span of two months with no warning, it’s a really deep cut. It’s a real wound that’s left,” Persinger said.
The church’s lead pastor told Voice of San Diego that they plan to prioritize the needs of families and offer the building to an organization that can work with children and have the funds to do it.
“It is still our highest priority to have a new organization that would offer early childhood education in that space by this Fall,” Ross wrote in a statement emailed to Voice.
Persinger said the community has gotten mixed messages from church leaders, though, about the future of the building.
“Parents of this community deserve to know whether or not childcare is going to be a priority because right now we’re hemorrhaging childcare spots in this town,” Persinger said.
Great write up
This doesn’t add up. The church makes at least $16K per month in rent from the school district for renting the building on the corner to a charter school. That number is from public records 7 years ago so it’s likely even more now. That rental income should more than offset any repairs needed for the preschool. The truth is that the pastor never cared about the preschool, when my kids went there he never participated in any school events or board meetings. That preschool has been a Normal Heights staple for 50 years and should not be closed because the pastor has lost interest in it. This is a huge loss for the community.
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