Two preschools struggling with staff retention may be annexed by the Shoreline Unified School District next month. The school board will consider bringing Papermill Creek Children’s Corner in Point Reyes Station and Shoreline Acres Preschool in Tomales under its auspices at its March 19 board meeting.
The move would help stabilize the preschool landscape in West Marin, according to a report by Jeanna Capito, a consultant with Prenatal to Five Fiscal Strategies hired by the West Marin Fund. Preschool teachers would get benefits and a raise as classified school employees, which would allow them to stay longer at the preschool and foster relationships with their students.
“All things related to learning for very young children hinge on that relationship with the adult who is their teacher,” Ms. Capito said.
Elementary schools could better align their curriculum with the preschools, and parents could gain confidence as their child’s advocate in the district at an early age.
Shoreline Acres sees about half of its staff leave each year, double the national average. Shoreline has a far better turnover rate of 15 percent. No data was available for Papermill, but all preschools have seen that when a teacher is hired, they may work until a position with health insurance becomes available at the school district.
“We’re putting people who are dedicated to very young children in the position of having to choose between their passion and their skillset, and what they need in order to live,” Ms. Capito said.
The persistent turnover makes it difficult to keep preschool classrooms staffed; Daphne Cummings, the director of Shoreline Acres, has been filling a role as a classroom teacher for the last seven months.
Beyond severing the relationship with children, staff turnover impacts teachers’ professional development. Shoreline has made it a goal to align its instruction from preschool to third grade, so the staff partner and train together. While elementary school staff can consistently build on alignment efforts each year, new preschool employees come in with no previous knowledge, and they start with basic-level training.
If Shoreline were to move forward with the annexation, Papermill would relocate from next to the Dance Palace to the Inverness School. Director Lourdes Romo is already in the process of licensing a classroom for preschool in Inverness regardless of the annexation, because Papermill needs more space. Her program serves 2-year-olds, who would not be eligible for the district preschool. “If this were to happen, I can’t speak for my board, but the logical thing would be to continue to operate [for 2-year-olds] at Papermill,” she Romo said.
Bodega Bay Preschool would no longer contract its staff from Shoreline Acres, so the two teachers there would become school employees. The three preschools would be overseen by two directors, one focusing on strategizing and securing funding and the other focusing on implementing strategies and engaging families. Currently, Ms. Romo and Ms. Cummings try to do both.
“What happens so often for us in West Marin is we kind of miss the train because we don’t have really sustainable systems for our smaller entities,” Ms. Cummings said. “We want to make sure we’re on the train, all together, getting ready to go, and when that funding hits we’re ready to access it.”
Governor Gavin Newsom has made preschool and childcare a central piece of his agenda. A 107-page master plan for early learning and care released in December calls for an overhaul of the state’s childcare systems over the next decade, including free preschool for all 4-year-olds and low-income 3-year-olds.
Currently, preschools depend on a system that reimburses them based on the number of low-income students. The funding structure challenges staffing because a school’s income fluctuates depending on the birth rate a few years prior.
Annexing the preschools would be cost neutral for Shoreline. State preschool funding would cover about half of the expenses, and tuition at $6,250 a year would cover another 20 percent. The Marin Community Foundation has agreed to contribute $148,000 to cover the rest of the budget, which would go almost entirely toward the nine employees.
For 30 hours a week, 10 months out of the year, four assistant teachers would make about $25,000 each, and the three teachers would be paid about $28,000. The wages follow the district’s classified staff salary schedule, with the starting hourly wage about $19, compared to $16 at the nonprofit preschools. The two directors would earn a $60,000 salary. All of the positions would come with benefits, one of the main reasons for making the change.
The school board expressed worry that funding from the Marin Community Foundation was not a long-term commitment, but Sarah Hobson from the West Marin Fund assured them that preschool is a priority for wealthy individuals in West Marin, and donors would likely be willing to pick up the contribution.
If the board approves the annexation, many details would need to be hashed out, such as how transportation would be handled and who the preschool directors would report to.
Shoreline would be the second school district in West Marin to offer preschool, after the Bolinas-Stinson Union School District launched a free program in 2018. After the district preschool opened, the Stinson Beach Preschool and the Bolinas Children’s Center closed their doors, leaving the free program as the only game in town. The Lagunitas School has a preschool on its campus, but the program is separate. The Nicasio School considered a program in 2019 but ultimately tabled the idea out of funding concerns.