In what could be a first step towards universal, publicly-funded preschool for the Bolinas-Stinson Union School District, the board of trustees adopted resolutions on Tuesday expressing their commitment to including the two Bolinas and Stinson preschools in the district and authorizing an ad hoc facilities committee to begin work assessing facilities needs for the proposed move. After lengthy discussion, both measures passed unanimously.
The board votes came after a presentation by principal Leo Kostelnik last Thursday in support of offering district housing to the two struggling preschools, Stinson Beach Preschool and Bolinas Children’s Center, beginning the 2013-14 school year. Stinson Beach Preschool currently rents a classroom on the district’s Stinson Beach campus but is slated to become homeless next June, when a one-year lease extension expires; the Bolinas Children’s Center, while not facing the same level of existential threat, would benefit from greater financial stability as a result of the move.
“My take is that I believe that this is good for our community,” Kostelnik said. “It’s a really great opportunity for the education of our youngest children, our preschoolers.”
According to Kostelnik’s proposal the district would provide facilities for both programs at little or no rent, although the preschools would remain privately operated. In the most likely scenario the Stinson campus would absorb the additional preschool students and continue to house the kindergarten class, while the Bolinas campus, which currently serves third through eighth grades, would take on the first and second grades currently located at the Stinson campus.
By offering a home to all the area’s preschool students, Kostelnik said the plan would provide immediate stability to the struggling preschools, foster greater collaboration between the schools and the district, and initiate a pathway for their eventual incorporation into the district.
The idea, he said, came in part from a desire to solve the housing woes currently saddling Stinson Beach Preschool, which would face the real possibility of dissolving in the absence of district action.
“I thought, ‘This is a problem with an opportunity attached,’” Kostelnik said. “And I thought, ‘Why don’t we try to take care of these systemic problems once and for all and bring the preschools under the umbrella of the district?’”
In January, Kostelnik wrote an open letter to the board and school community outlining the challenges facing the district and proposing a solution. Last Thursday night’s meeting, he said, “was really about whether or not the board wanted to get serious about investigating the possibility” of moving forward with the proposal; at Tuesday’s meeting, they signaled that they do.
“For this school, and for both preschools, I really think that universal preschool is a wonderful idea and that we should go for it, and I think that this is a great starting point for us to do it,” trustee Nathan Siedman said last week, echoing comments from the majority of the board. “There’s going to be problems, we know there will be, but I am confident that if we get started the pertinent problems will present themselves and we can start formulating solutions to them as we go.”
While raising important questions about the proposed move—including the possibility that the effort to unify district preschoolers could be obviated by a new preschool’s opening in Bolinas—Ward Young, director of the Bolinas Children’s Center, was warm to the proposal.
“This is not new for me,” he said. “I have felt strongly that a universal preschool would serve my families because many of my families do not come very many hours during the week. If the universal preschool means publicly funded, ultimately I think that’s what’s the most important part of this. It would allow families to have children in preschool as much as they want.”
For Susan Tacherra, longtime head teacher and director of Stinson Beach Preschool, the move represents a possible solution to the troubling uncertainty that has long shrouded her program. If nothing happens, she said, the 25 families the school currently serves would be left with nowhere to go upon the lease’s expiration.
“It’s a step towards the district supporting and ensuring stability in the preschools,” she said of the proposal. “It’s a great step.”
Kostelnik said the district would need to create an additional two standard-sized classrooms, or 1,800 square feet of space, in order to accommodate a projected influx of 25 to 35 students. The ad hoc facilities committee, comprised of two certified teachers, two staff members, a board member, two parents, one community member and Kostelnik, has a tentative timeline of completing a draft proposal by the scheduled June 5 board meeting.
At the high end of the spectrum of facilities modifications would be a $4 million overhaul that both anticipates future district needs and addresses longstanding needs, like a gym or science facilities; at the very minimum would be a plan that costs in the tens of thousands and creates the additional space by converting a building currently used as all-purpose space. The necessary funding for any upgrades related to the move would come from a general obligation bond.
Kostelnik said the district will hold at least one open community meeting in the upcoming weeks as the process unfolds.