The Shoreline Unified School District board voted last week to bring Shoreline Acres under its control starting this fall. The move is intended to align the Tomales preschool with the elementary school, boost staff retention by offering employees health insurance and allow for easier access to state funding. While trustees had some questions about the budget, they were ultimately in full support of the proposal, whose cost is covered by tuition, donations and state scholarships. 

“It’s been a goal of boards I’ve been sitting on for 20 years to have preschools under the roof of the Shoreline district,” trustee Tim Kehoe said. 

Bodega Bay Preschool, which employs staff through Shoreline Acres but is otherwise a part of the district, will now employ staff through the district.

Next year, the school district will consider working with the Papermill Creek Children’s Corner to operate a district preschool at the Inverness School. Papermill is already working on opening a third classroom in Inverness this summer because it needs more space. If the district were to take over the program, then Papermill would be freed up to serve children under age 3 on its campus in Point Reyes Station.

The work to bring preschools under Shoreline’s control has picked up in the past year and a half as part of the Marin Promise Partnership, a collaborative of nonprofits that are focused on early childhood education. The tenuous state of preschools was laid bare during the pandemic when student enrollment was capped, leaving the preschools without the tuition dollars needed to pay their employees. Shoreline Acres sees about half of its staff leave each year.

Beyond offering employees stability, the move also allows preschoolers to ride the bus. Most families would opt to drive their kids themselves, but for families who have no other options, bus access would allow them to attend, Shoreline Acres director Daphne Cummings said. She described a mother who has epilepsy and can’t drive, and her older kids have learning disabilities; without a bus, her preschooler is staying home this year, increasing the chances that he too will struggle. A few trustees questioned if bus drivers are equipped to take kids as young as 3 years old on a 30-minute ride, and Ms. Cummings said they can ride in the front seats or with their siblings.

The annexation of Shoreline Acres was endorsed by several groups that recognized how early childhood education improves outcomes around health, sociability, economic productivity and reduced crime. David Kirp, a professor and member of the National Academy of Education, wrote to the board that every dollar invested in quality preschool returns $8 in benefits to society. The biggest beneficiaries are children from impoverished families. 

“The evidence from scores of studies is overwhelming—there is no better educational investment than quality pre-K,” he wrote. 

Supervisor Dennis Rodoni, the West Marin Fund and Papermill Creek Children’s Corner also wrote letters in support.

Initially, Shoreline aimed to incorporate both the Tomales and Point Reyes Station preschool next fall, but Papermill Creek has more logistics to figure out. Board president Lauren LaRocca said directors are prepared to help transition their program to the district in the future, but they will need time to restructure and apply for appropriate licenses. If Papermill were to hand off its older children to Shoreline, the nonprofit could then serve kids below age 3. Neither board has committed to a move.

A gap still persists for infants and toddlers in the northern part of the district, and without a building to host them, a family home care is the most feasible option, Ms. Cummings said. 

Once all of the preschools fall under Shoreline’s control, the plan is for them to share two preschool directors. One would focus on engaging with families and the other would implemet curriculum and secure funding, hoping to capitalize on a growing preschool budget from the state.

The program will be free for families considered low-income; a family of four must make less than $5,256 a month to qualify. Other families will pay $625 a month for a five-day schedule, or less if they attend part time.

State scholarships for low-income families will give the program an estimated $182,000 per year, and tuition will raise about $125,000 a year. The Marin Community Foundation is contributing $74,000 per year for the next three years.

Another $67,000 was budgeted from further philanthropic donations. Trustees were concerned that the money was not guaranteed, and Logan Martin, the director of fiscal services, said he feels as comfortable as he can about the money coming in. West Marin nonprofits have made preschools a priority, and budget projections were conservative. “I think it’s a great program and I think it can work,” he said.

Shoreline Acres was started in 1978 by Marianne Long Burbank on her ranch in Tomales. In 1999, the preschool relocated to Tomales Elementary with a yearly rent of $1. Now, it will dissolve to form Tomales Preschool, but other than that, most of the changes are behind scenes and on paper.

“It really shouldn’t feel or look different to families or children or teachers,” Ms. Cummings said.

Shoreline is the second school district to offer free preschool to students, adding to the Bolinas-Stinson Union School District’s program. Lagunitas School has a private preschool on its campus, and the Nicasio School board considered a program in 2019 but tabled the idea out of funding concerns.